Future Of Waterbury State Offices Still In Doubt

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(Host) The state hopes to open several buildings in the Waterbury Office complex in the next few weeks weren’t badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the future of the rest of the complex is very much in doubt.

(Kinzel) The vast number of buildings at the Waterbury Complex suffered significant damage. Some had up to 6 feet of water on the first floor and much of the electrical, heating and sewage infrastructure at the Complex was destroyed.

Roughly 1,500 employees worked at the Complex and the state is now in the process of finding temporary office space in Chittenden and Washington counties for these workers.

Some preliminary estimates suggest it could cost tens of millions of dollars to repair these buildings. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says his office and the Legislature need to decide if these repairs make sense:

(Spaulding) "We feel we ought to the taxpayers to do a thorough assessment before we spend untold millions of dollars refurbishing it to where it was to make sure that that’s the best route forward."

(Kinzel) Spaulding will soon put out a formal request process to encourage alternative uses of these buildings.

(Spaulding) "That allows private entities and developers and non profit housing organizations to submit ideas on what would be a creative use of the Waterbury complex."

(Kinzel) And Spaulding thinks there may be a number of good ways to use this space:

(Spaulding) "Maybe there’s a private company that would like the whole complex, and that would put it back on the tax rolls for Waterbury. Maybe there’s a developer that’s interested in mixed use, office, residential, and some retail, as well. And maybe the state could be a tenant for some of the space in there as an anchor tenant."

(Kinzel) Bill Shepeluk is the town manager in Waterbury. He says the town enjoyed an economic boost from having 1,500 state employees working in town and he’s watching this process very closely.

(Shepeluk) "How it’s redeveloped and who redevelops it is certainly of concern to Waterbury. The fact that someone is thinking it’s coming to be redeveloped is heartening news. But it’s critical to downtown Waterbury."

(Kinzel) Several parts of Waterbury were hit hard by the floods. Shepeluk says it’s hard to focus on the long term when the town’s short term needs are still so large.

(Shepeluk) "It’s just a challenge to be able to continue with our recovery of our residential areas and our business district and also get our communication lines in sync with the state so we can work cooperatively with them."

(Kinzel) Shepeluk says recovery efforts in Waterbury have been aided by a tremendous volunteer effort. But he says it’s hard to maintain this approach and he hopes to hire some additional staff to help guide the town’s long term recovery program.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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