Three years after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene made most of Vermont’s state office complex in Waterbury unusable, its replacement is rising out of what was a sodden mess that reeked of the nearby Winooski River.
An 86,000-square-foot office building is being constructed above the level of any expected flooding, and many of the historic buildings that are being preserved are being flood-proofed by filling in what had been their lowest levels.
The $125 million project, the largest state building project in Vermont history, is on track for completion at the end of 2015, when the first of 800 Agency of Human Services employees who will work there are scheduled to move in. It will take about four months to move everyone in, state project manager Mike Stevens said.
“The progress on-site is everything that we expected and then some,” Stevens said. “The project is progressing at a very rapid rate.”
Besides the new office building taking shape on the river side of the complex, a 20,000-square-foot central plant is being built. Most of the historic buildings, about a quarter of a mile from the river, are being completely renovated.
Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28, 2011, was the greatest natural disaster to hit Vermont in almost a century. The storm killed six people and did hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to roads, bridges and public and private buildings, including homes.
Much progress has been made in the recovery. Last year, on the storm’s second anniversary, Gov. Peter Shumlin marked the unofficial end to the recovery, but he made clear much remained to be done.
And part of that unfinished business was reconstructing the Waterbury complex, which had more than a dozen buildings.
While the buildings stood after the Irene floodwaters receded, much of the complex was made unusable. The only building substantially unchanged since the flood and still in use is the Public Safety building.
The complex had been home to the Vermont State Hospital. The patients were moved to other facilities during the flooding.
Last month the new Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital opened in Berlin as part of a revamped statewide mental health care network.
The loss of the hundreds of jobs hit the town of Waterbury, which itself suffered devastating flooding.
Now there are about 170 construction workers on the site every day, Stevens said. And there’s the promise of more people to come.
Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, who spent a time as the state’s chief Irene recovery officer, said Irene did more than just damage the state.
“I continue to think about how much stronger we are,” Minter said, “not just in terms of the infrastructure we’ve built but the people who we are and the strength of our communities.”
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