Moving days

State employees take up new digs

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

Just
The Facts

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ST. ALBANS CITY — Employees from the state office building on Houghton Street will complete their move to their new $8.6 million home on Federal Street this weekend.

Movers were to transport desks, tables, file cabinets and other items on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday to the new four-floor, 45-square-foot building.

Sixty employees moved just after Christmas and the remaining 100 will move this week.

“There are many things I love about this building,” said Agency of Human Services Field Director Kristin Prior.

The building has numerous windows and is designed to let in natural light. There are multiple conference rooms and the leaders of each of the six departments had a hand in choosing the colors for their section of the building.

The building will house staff from six departments within the Agency of Human Services (AHS) and the Dept. of Labor.

Prior said she insisted that the Dept. of Labor remain in the building with AHS. “I was adamant when we started this process two years ago that everybody comes,” she said. Being in the same building allows for easier collaboration, she explained. “This is really the place where people come together,” she said.

It’s also the only AHS site in the state where all six departments are in the same building.

As with any large-scale project, there are still little things that need to be corrected. For example, some doorways lack doors, because the wrong one was shipped.

Originally, officials with Buildings and General Services had wanted to put cubicles throughout the building but Prior argued that several departments needed offices. “We do very confidential work, often with people who are very vulnerable and have a lot of barriers to getting the services they need,” she said.

In the end those departments needing offices, such as the Dept. of Children and Families and the Dept. of Corrections, received them, but the offices are, on average, 50 square feet smaller than the current offices on Houghton Street, according to Prior.

The building itself is 5,000 to 6,000 square feet larger than the current building, she said, with more and better-equipped conference rooms. Each department has its own conference room, along with both public and employee-only bathrooms and a kitchen area for staff. The conference rooms have retractable video screens and Wi-Fi connections.

The largest conference room is at the front of the building on the first floor. Also on the ground floor is the Dept. of Labor, with space for the public to conduct job searches and fill out applications.

Efficiency Vermont was consulted on the lighting and equipment, and all of the lights are on sensors, coming on when someone is present and shutting off when they leave. Bathrooms and sinks have water saving fixtures, and the insulation and windows were designed for maximum efficiency, explained Steve Rowe, of ReArch Company, the building owners.

There is a public calendar for each conference room and “anybody in the state can book our conference rooms,” said Prior.

Internet connections throughout the building are state of the art.

The Health Dept.’s conference room has its own generator and a satellite phone, enabling it to serve as an emergency command center.

Health Dept. staff was among the 60 workers who had already moved in when the Messenger visited the building on Wednesday.

“We’re very, very happy,” said Judy Ashley, Dept. of Health district director. “The building is just gorgeous.”

Desk space for the Dept. of Health staff is on the second floor, while the clinic with three exam rooms, a waiting area, and an education room is on the third floor. The education room now has a stove, sink and refrigerator for cooking and nutrition classes. The lactation room, which is open for use by the public on a drop-in basis, is also on the third floor.

The Dept. of Children and Families (DCF) is also on the third floor and has outgrown its space already. Eight new employees were added to DCF this year.

“Everybody had growth space in the beginning,” said Prior, but much of it has already been filled.

The Dept. of Corrections has its own entrance on the first floor. Their new space is slightly smaller but is better coordinated, said Prior, with rooms for holding group sessions with clients.

Moving downtown means Prior now shares the same concerns as other downtown businesses, namely parking. “That’s probably going to be our biggest challenge,” she said. “We’re always going to be fighting for parking.”

The state has purchased 170 parking passes to the new municipal parking garage, which has a direct, employee-only connection to the new office building. However, additional workers who spend less than four days a week in St. Albans will likely not receive a pass, nor will contract workers.

The state will be able to do some parking validation for clients and visitors from other agencies, such as Northwestern Counseling and Support Services.

“The people that come here are pretty low income,” said Prior.

Green Mountain Transit will add the new building to its routes in St. Albans.

The old state office building has been sold to Mylan Technologies, Inc., which will take possession at the end of January. Once it has the building, Mylan is expected to add 100 new employees. The building, previously tax exempt, has been added to the city’s tax rolls with a value of $5.4 million.

The new state office building is leased from ReArch rather than owned by the state. It, too, will be a source of tax revenue.

Seventy-five percent of the taxes on both buildings will go into the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) fund and be used to make payments on the bond used to construct the municipal parking garage and other TIF projects.

The remaining 25 percent of the property taxes on the building will be go the city’s general fund and the state education fund.