The state auditor is asking for the Legislature to approve a $488,000 addition to his office on State Street.
Doug Hoffer says that now that his office is fully staffed — he has 15 full-time workers in his employ — the 1,740 square foot building is no longer big enough. One employee is working in a hallway; another is housed in a building next door and the conference room has been partitioned into two offices.
The 1,200-square-foot, two-story addition is a “bare bones” project, Hoffer says. The addition would include new office space, a garage, a new staircase, mechanical improvements, a small porch and an accessibility ramp. Renovations to the historic building are not part of the plan. The cost would be roughly $400 a square foot.
Hoffer is asking lawmakers for a $20,000 feasibility study this year to prepare for the addition.
“This was entirely driven by my observation that professional staff were working in less than optimal office space,” Hoffer told lawmakers on Thursday.
The auditor’s proposal — complete with floor plan, elevations and construction estimates — was greeted with a less than enthusiastic response from the House Corrections and Institutions Committee. The project is not on the committee’s 10-year must-build list, and the state is already in the middle of three big-ticket construction projects — the Waterbury State Office Complex, the Health Lab and the Vermont Psychiatric Care Center.
Rep. Alice Emmons gently suggested that perhaps the auditor could move to an already open space in the capital complex in Montpelier.
Hoffer bristled at the idea. “I don’t want to be blended, spindled, folded in with other offices — we need to remain independent,” he said to the committee.
Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, said the auditor could trade spaces with the Vermont Commission on Women and military affairs, located three doors down. “We’re having a hard time spending that much money,” she explained.
“We’re not saying we’re going to meld you in with executive branch,” Emmons said. “We’re looking at other buildings that are out there that may be more suitable for your needs instead of investing money in this building that may be suitable for someone else’s needs. That’s an option we need to look at first.”
Michael Obuchowski, the commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, told lawmakers the project “isn’t a slam dunk right now.” He is now reviewing the list for fiscal year 2016 projects, and he says “very frankly” the project needs are “scary.” The fiscal year 2015 capital bill is roughly $180 million, according to a spreadsheet from the Joint Fiscal Office, and it includes expenditures on the Waterbury State Office Complex. Next year’s capital budget could be $134 million, Obuchowski said.
Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Florence, said Hoffer needed to get the approval of the capital commission for the project.
“You might want to consider a relocation plan,” Shaw said. “You’re not even in the 10-year plan. We’d have to push someone off the list.”