The great furniture give away: State disposes of 600 tons, 50 years worth

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Michael Obuchowski, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services in Waterbury. Photo by Taylor Dobbs
Gov. Peter Shumlin and Michael Obuchowski, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services in Waterbury. Photo by Taylor Dobbs

The state is giving away tons of furniture in an effort to clear out the Waterbury State Office Complex for renovations.

The state has held four sales so far, three of them restricted to municipalities and nonprofits and one open to the general public. Municipalities and schools get the furniture at no charge, whereas members of the public pay a “nominal fee” for the desks, chairs, cabinets and other office furniture used by the state for sometimes 50 years or more.

“Taxpayers have already paid for this once,” said Ed von Turkovich, director of Government Business Services, the division that manages state surplus.

The state has already sold or given away about 90 percent of the office furniture, according to von Turkovich.

“So far, we believe we’ve disposed of over 600 tons of furniture equipment from the complex,” he said. The other 10 percent should go in the next two or three events, one of which will be again open to the general public.

“We’re going to keep holding these until we get [rid of] everything that needs to be removed,” he said.

Some Vermonters are concerned, though, that some of the furniture is going out of state. Responding to a tip that alleged trucks from the State University of New York network were sighted, VTDigger asked van Turkovich if out-of-state entities were allowed to take the furniture as well.

While von Turkovich couldn’t respond specifically to the question of SUNY trucks, as he is not present at the sales, he said some municipalities from New York had called about the sales.

Von Turkovich said the towns were free to come during sale days for the general public and pay the nominal fee for the furniture.

While some out-of-state groups may be coming for the surplus, “we didn’t advertise it that way,” von Turkovich said.

As the state is being forced to reconsider its rebuilding plans after a miscommunication over funding with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, some have questioned the idea of giving away so much furniture that the state could have used as a fallback plan. Buildings and General Services Commissioner Michael Obuchowski said the furniture’s got to go.

“Basically, we are planning to renovate the space at Waterbury even if we were to go with option A which is a reuse of the space there. It’s unlikely we go with A though, because it’s more expensive than B,” Obuchowski said, referring to two of the state’s potential plans for the Waterbury State Office Complex.

The state plans to renovate the office complex no matter what, and the furniture they had before won’t work.

Obuchowski said the renovated office complex will be more geared towards openness and efficiency.

“The other thing is [the Agency of Natural Resources] is going to National Life anyway and so they’re going to be in cubicles in their new efficient space that we hope to re-create in Waterbury,” he said.

The bottom line? “The existing furniture doesn’t work,” Obuchowski said. With new plans for the office space and a high storage cost for the old furniture, Obuchowski said it just didn’t make sense to hold onto it.

Still, there is doubt about funding, and that could change everything.

“We started these sales when we were looking at option B,” Obuchowski said. “But in any case, we will be doing renovation of the space if we go back to Waterbury. Everybody realizes that everything is on the table right now. The likelihood is that we will go back to Waterbury, but given the the FEMA conversation, everything is on the table right now.”

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Taylor Dobbs

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