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As Irene Anniversary Approaches, Work At Waterbury Complex Nears Completion

Almost four years after Tropical Storm Irene, work is nearing completion on the $130 million state office complex in Waterbury. On Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials toured the site.

As the tour began, Shumlin reminded everyone that budget-wise, reconstructing the Waterbury complex is the largest state government project in Vermont’s history.

“On budget, on schedule, right?” Shumlin asked Project Administrator Mike Stevens.

“On budget, on schedule and the one other thing I’d add to that is the correct choice. We’re making the right improvements to the campus for the next 150 years if not longer,” Stevens answered.

From the outside, the red brick buildings Stevens pointed out still have the look of the old office complex. But actually this is a far cry from what was here when Irene hit.

The 160-foot tall smokestack built in 1925 is still here, but gone is the old state hospital.

The work has involved renovating 120,000 square feet of the existing structures and building 86,000 square feet of new office buildings, including a modern biomass heating plant.

“We think we’ll operate this campus at about 40 percent of the energy usage that we used to have, with almost the same number of people coming back,” Stevens explained.

He says basements, flooded in Irene, have also been filled in. The buildings now stand six inches above the 500-year flood level.

Inside, natural light and open space have replaced the more claustrophobic feel of the past buildings.

"We think we’ll operate this campus at about 40 percent of the energy usage that we used to have, with almost the same number of people coming back" - Mike Stevens, Project Administrator

Shumlin recalled a winter visit to the old complex: the wheezing radiators, frosty windows and cold offices.

“Getting the state employee workforce in a space where they’ll be productive, safe and able to really focus, I think, is going to be a huge benefit over the years for Vermont taxpayers,” he said.

Vermont taxpayers will be footing the bill to the tune of $83 million.

FEMA is on the hook for another $32 million and insurance is covering $15 million of the construction costs.

The centerpiece of the new complex is the building that will house the Agency of Human Services.

Stevens stopped to point out a wall-sized mural being completed by artist Sarah-Lee Terrat and based on the book Empty Beds: A History of the Vermont State Hospital.

He says the work on the Waterbury complex is nearly 90 percent complete. Employees will begin returning in mid-December. By the time the last of them move in next April, about 1,100 people will be working here, compared to approximately 1,500 who were based in the Waterbury complex before Irene.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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