A dozen firms vie for redesign of flooded Waterbury complex

Work goes on at the Waterbury State Office Complex. VTD/Josh Larkin
Work goes on at the Waterbury State Office Complex. VTD/Josh Larkin

MONTPELIER – And they’re off – though not exactly running.

An even dozen architectural, consulting and contracting firms Tuesday said they want to be part of the planning, re-imagining and reconstruction of the flooded-out state office complex in Waterbury.

Bids for the project, which lawmakers are calling one of the biggest undertakings ever to confront the state, were opened at 3 p.m. in the state capital and included two more firms than the ten who replied to a preliminary “request for information” back on Nov. 10.

The bid opening is unlike any previous process the state has gone through, since there is no firm “project” to bid on and cost estimates to compare.

Instead state officials have described the bids as the first step in helping Vermont build an expert team to review and figure out what to do with 700,000 square feet of office space on a 100-acre parcel in the town of Waterbury, 11 miles north of the state capital.

In essence, the selected bidder will be a partner with the state in its efforts to decide a highly politicized and massive undertaking that hinges on whether to return 1,500 state workers back to Waterbury by restoring the complex damaged by tropical storm Irene.

Officials estimate they will spend $20 million to $25 million just to restore basic infrastructure at the complex, most of which is not expected to be habitable for six months to a year. Beyond that, any costs are largely conjecture. Insurance and FEMA reimbursements are expected to cover the initial restoration costs.

The four options under consideration in the bid are: to restore Waterbury to its previous use as office site for 1,500 state employees; come up with a plan for a mixed use public/private office complex; create a new off-site office complex in central Vermont; or some hybrid combination of all of those.

The companies selected are largely from Vermont but also draw from large national firms with a range of expertise. They are:

— Maclay Architects in Warren;
— Smith Alvarez Sienkiewycz Architects of Burlington;
— Rood and Sellers, a combined architectural partnership of Bast and Rood in Hinesburg and Sellers and Company in Warren;
— Stantec Inc., an architectural and national consulting firm with 170 offices around the U.S.;
— Vermont Integrated Architecture of Middlebury;
— Freeman French Freeman of Burlington;
— TruexCullins of Burlington in partnership with Perkins and Will, an international architectural firm with 24 offices;
— Dew Construction Corp, a design-build and general contractor in Williston;
— NADAAA, a Boston-based architectural firm;
— Gossens Bachman Architects of Montpelier;
— Scott and Partners Architects of Essex Junction;
–The Green/Blue Collaborative, a joint venture of Studio III architects of Bristol, Vermont, and Pfaffmann + Associates in Pittsburgh, Pa.

New alternative sites under consideration

The huge scope of the undertaking and its political overtones have been sinking in during the last month as communities in the central Vermont region have begun vying for some of the displaced state workers, who are scattered in locations around the region.

Officials in Waterbury, whose businesses have been hard-hit by the loss of the large state workforce, have hired a lobbying firm and are working to build allies in the Legislature, which will have a big say in any eventual state plan.

Barre Mayor Tom Lauzon is openly lobbying to build office space for 300 state workers to give the Granite City an economic boost. The town of Northfield, south of Montpelier, has also expressed an interest in hosting state workers.

Meanwhile, officials have revealed the state is also exploring an alternative site in Montpelier. Deputy Commissioner of Buildings and General Services Tom Sandretto said Green Mountain Power has informed the state it might sell its office and storage building on Green Mountain Drive, which is on a strip of land where the Vermont Department of Labor building and Liquor Control Warehouse are also located. Though located along the Winooski, he said that site downstream from Montpelier High School has never flooded.

Sandretto said the state has also dusted off and is looking at former plans to expand 133 State Street at the corner of Aiken Ave., which houses the Vermont Tax Department.

Sandretto said the state basically is reviewing all its options as well as digging out the capital master plan in a wide-ranging effort “in order to try and chart a path for the Legislature.”

Lawmakers and administration officials have made it clear they want to turn the disaster from Irene into an opportunity to rethink not just how to use the Waterbury complex but how to create offices for the 21st century.

The three emerging mantras from state officials include: ensuring that entire state agencies are co-located together for higher productivity and programmatic needs; creating modern open-spaced offices that will be appropriate for a future highly-connected technological world; and building energy-efficient sustainable office space to save future heating and utility costs.

The Agency of Human Services and Natural Resources were the two largest departments displaced by the flooding, as were 240 employees and patients at the Vermont State Hospital. Some 200 Public Safety and forensic laboratory employees have returned back to their offices in Waterbury.

If a decision is made to return to the historic Waterbury complex, parts of which date back to before 1900, Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield noted over the weekend that not having employees in the buildings makes renovations far more feasible. However, Waterbury is located in a floodplain and any renovation plan will include the task of preventing the potential for future flood damage to a rehabbed or new facility.

According to state buildings official Wanda Minoli, the state is expected to award a contract or contracts no later than Jan 3, 2012, and will be consulting with the Legislature as plans progress.
A March 2 deadline was set for producing final studies, which leaves six weeks or so for lawmakers to weigh in on any decisions before the usual end of the session.

Correction: We originally reported that the Green/Blue Collaborative, a Charlottesville, Va. nonprofit that provides scientific, environmental stewardship and sustainability consulting had placed a bid on the complex project. This was incorrect. The Green/Blue Collaborative that submitted a proposal in response to the Waterbury State Office Complex RFP is a joint venture of Studio III architects of Bristol, Vermont, and Pfaffmann + Associates in Pittsburgh, Pa. .

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