WATERBURY — Gov. Peter Shumlin and other officials formally opened the rebuilt Waterbury State Office Complex that was destroyed more than four years ago by the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene.
It was late August 2011 when the Winooski River spilled over its banks and devastated the town of Waterbury, including the state office complex. Work began in August 2013 to revamp the complex. On Monday, Shumlin and Congressman Peter Welch joined state and local officials to cut the ribbon on the new building.
“All I can say is, we’ve come a long way, baby,” Shumlin said.
The project included a 86,000-square-foot office building, a 20,000-square-foot central plant and maintenance facility, new site infrastructure and renovation of the original 13 core buildings that comprise 115,000-square-feet. The reconstruction of the complex has employed about 1,500 workers and was completed on time and within its budget, according to the governor’s office.
In all, rebuilding the complex cost about $130 million. It was funded mostly by the state, which kicked in $82 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency contributed $31 million, while insurance from the destruction provided $17 million.
Shumlin said the rebuilt facility is “undoubtedly, the most beautiful, energy efficient, usable state office complex in the United States of America.”
“What a difference four-and-a-half hears makes. I am so honored to be here on behalf of Vermonters,” he said.
Shumlin pledged shortly after the storm struck that the complex would be rebuilt. On Monday he was able to claim his pledge as a success.
“We stand on the backs of this great river remembering the pain and the loss and the heartache and the devastation and the destruction and the sadness and the hard days and the hard times,” he said. “We all made a promise together that we were going to pull together as only Vermonters can do and rebuild this town and this state better than the way Irene found us. There is no greater testament to that determination, that vision and that pure willpower on the part of Vermonters than this project.”
Engineers and architects designed the new structure to incorporate natural light. The building meets LEED Gold standards for energy efficiency resulting in a 25 percent reduction in energy consumption throughout the complex. And because of the complex’s proximity to the Winooski River, 19 “flood-prone” buildings were removed and all occupied areas of the new and renovated space has been elevated about the 500-year flood level.
Shumlin noted there was plenty of debate about whether the complex should be rebuilt on the same site. But it serves as “the heart of Waterbury,” and is an important economic driver for the town, he said.
“So many people spoke up and said, ‘Wait a minute. If we can put someone on the moon, if we can invent the Internet, if we can do the things that we do with ingenuity and grit and determination in Vermont, there’s no reason why we can’t marshal the resources to build an energy efficient, green, clean, complex that will be state-of-the-art and will never get flooded again,’” he said. “That is indeed what we’ve done and that was a huge challenge.”
The new space will provide state employees with state-of-the-art space to conduct their work on behalf of Vermonters, according to the governor.
“You have really made his happen by really changing your lives as a result of the storm, moving into temporary work space, being extraordinarily patient, never missing a beat and through mud and much and hardship, you not only delivered services to Vermonters in these years of rebuilding, but you’ve also, together, help us construct what is going to be extraordinarily efficient work space,” the governor told employees. “It’s going to give you the work space that you’ve always deserved but never had.”
Shumlin credited the state’s congressional delegation — Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch — for their help in securing federal funding for the project through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Welch, who attended the opening ceremony Monday, returned the favor and credited Shumlin with inspiring Vermonters in the storm’s aftermath. Many of those Vermonters were out “just getting the job done and doing the work that had to be done,” he said.
“It was really an inspiring thing to see, and Peter Shumlin, I’ve got to say, that was you finest hour, because you were on it immediately and you were here, you were in Northfield, you were everywhere,” Welch said. “What you said then seemed like the hopeful talk of a politician that we’ll make this better than before. Peter Shumlin, you were right.”
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, said he expects the new complex to boost the spirits of state workers.
“It’s a great step forward. Everybody’s been waiting … since the ground breaking where people were able to see that finally things were going to change,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be a huge morale booster, I think, for state workers.”
The reopening of the complex will also be a boon to local businesses in Waterbury, Stevens said.
“I think it’s going to be a big bump back up,” he said. “To have a reconfigured complex where folks are either going to bring their lunch or their going to go buy lunch or they’re going to go back to getting their dry cleaning done here, all of the things that they used to do, support our local businesses.”
The complex is expected to house more than 1,000 state employees when it is fully open.