With Extensive Damage, State Offices May Not Be Worth Repairing

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(Host) Vermont officials say the State’s Office Complex in Waterbury has suffered "an extensive catastrophe" to its entire infrastructure.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the situation is raising the question of whether or not it makes sense to renovate the buildings.

(Kinzel) You can hear the sound of diesel generators throughout the State Office Complex in Waterbury.  These generators are working overtime because they’re the only source of power.

State officials have closed off all access to the Complex because they feel there are safety hazards in the buildings. Lt. Governor Phil Scott has toured the Complex several times and he says many buildings had up to 6 feet of water on their first floor.

Scott says the major problem now is addressing the total destruction of infrastructure serving the complex.

(Scott) "… Electrical infrastructure, mechanical infrastructure, water, sewer, even some of the other needs – heat, it’s all steam and the boiler is down and that’s significant damage there. So even if you get let’s say you get the buildings up and running there’s other needs as well."

(Kinzel) Most of the buildings in the Waterbury Complex were originally designed to be part of the Vermont State Hospital. At one time, more than 1,500 patients were housed here.  As the Hospital’s population declined, the buildings were converted to state office space.

Scott thinks there’s going to be an active debate if these buildings should ever be renovated.

(Scott) "Was this good space to begin with? Did this make the most sense? And while it was dry we’ve been putting money into this complex for a number of years but now it’s time to reassess. And I’ll throw a figure of if it’s $50 or $100 million that it takes to rehabilitate these structures is that good use of our resources? Does that make the most sense?"

(Kinzel) At the State Buildings Department, the top priority is finding temporary space for the roughly 1,500 state employees who worked in Waterbury. Tom Sandretto is the Deputy Commissioner.

(Sandretto) "At this time we’re not looking for permanency we’re looking for an answer to an immediate emergency and trying our best to get state employees out and working again as soon as possible."

(Kinzel) And Sandretto says the state’s largest private employer has offered to help out.

(Sandretto) "I believe IBM gave us an indication that they had work space that was easily fit up and made ready for approximately 150 employees…that’s a possibility seeing whether someone can fit in that area in Essex."

(Kinzel) While the Shumlin Administration hopes to have temporary office space available for many of the displaced state employees in the next few weeks, a final decision on the future of the Waterbury Complex could be months away.

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

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