ST ALBANS CITY-- After United States Citizenship and Immigration Services staff left the Gilbert C. Tabor building because of a flood in December, City Manager Dominic Cloud said the City is hopeful that they will return.

This time, to the 5-acre lot formerly home to Fonda-Solo on Lower Newton Street.

“We’re rolling out the red carpet for them in terms of price and building design, and I think it will be a great fit,” Cloud said in an interview on Friday. “It’s downtown, it’s got plenty of parking and it can be a brand new site for them.”

Cloud said that while nothing was set in stone, no other municipalities were currently competing for the opportunity because the City is the one with the interest involved.

David Carle, Press Secretary for Senator Patrick Leahy, said keeping USCIS in Franklin County is still a priority for the Senator.

“Senator Leahy worked to bring the jobs to St. Albans, and he will continue working to keep them in St. Albans,” Carle said. “It is his expectation that the Generalthat General Services Administration’s Request for Proposals for a new office space will ensure that USCIS can call Franklin County home, well into the future.”

Cloud said it was immediately after USCIS announced they were leaving their longtime facility in the Tabor building earlier this year that the City set to work trying to figure out where else USCIS could go.

“The General Services Administration is in the middle of the process that they run for site selection,” Cloud said. “There’s a number of sites that are competing for it, and it’s pretty closely held which sites are in the running.”

Cloud said the City bought the former container site on Lower Newton Street and demolished the buildings prior in order to prepare it for redevelopment.

The area is home to three different sites, one of which will be planned for the Vermont Rail Dispatch Center, Cloud said.

“So we have Lot One and Two open, and we’re hoping for USCIS to take them,” Cloud said. “We are negotiating a private agreement to possibly lease it to them.”

If GSA decides to build there, Cloud said a developer and architect will propose a building and the project will then be developed by USCIS and GSA collaboratively.

“One of the most important jobs of the city is to make St Albans a community of distinction,” Cloud said. “It’s about quality jobs and the strength of our tax base. These are great jobs, the service center has been part of the fabric of St Albans for decades. The city has been involved in creating the center at the Tabor building, and now we want to help them stay here. Our job is to make sure they can stay, if at all possible.”

In order to be in the running to be picked as a destination, Franklin County needed to prove that there were at least three viable sites where the building could go.

“This is a very attractive tenant,” Cloud said. “So now, we need to submit a complete proposal for the property. We’ve done an initial proposal, and we need to make one final, and we’re waiting to hear about the timeline for the final submission process.”

“As you know, USCIS has not left St. Albans,” Carle said. “Most employees have been working remotely during the pandemic. Given the issues with the current building, Senator Leahy and his staff worked closely with GSA, USCIS and local stakeholders on GSA’s Request For Interest process earlier this year."

Because the Tabor building had been shut down after the flood, the employees were then required to travel to Essex for work.

According to a statement from the UE Local 208 union sent on Feb. 7, USCIS and its contractor, Sciolex, had designated the Essex location of USCIS to be the new location for over 200 employees displaced as a result of the flood “for the foreseeable future.”

“GSA recommended that we not occupy the Tabor facility during construction, out of concern for mold spores traveling throughout the facility,” said Connie Nolan, acting Associate Director of Service Center Operations for USCIS in a notice.

“The employees who had been unable to return to their jobs were told they were required to return to Essex by February 4th, 2021 or face potential termination,” according to a statement from the UE Local 208 union. 

Required repairs to the Tabor building included at least the removal and replacement of the damaged carpet and drywall, filling gaps in the foundation, replacing electrical wiring and receptacles in the slab, furniture repair, air quality tests and the abatement of issues identified due to “unsafe air quality conditions,” according to a notice from Connie Nolan, acting Associate Director of Service Center Operations for USCIS.

“The identified repairs were already at least five weeks behind schedule, and the discovery of additional electrical issues and infrastructure voids added to this delay,” Nolan wrote of damage. “No repairs have started and the building owner has not provided a new project timeline incorporating the new issues identified.”

The Tabor facility lease expired on June 30 of this year, and USCIS was allegedly already in the process of notifying the General Services Administration of its intention not to renew the lease for the building for the sake of the “health and safety of the VSC workforce.”

UE Local 208 is part of the United Electrical, Machine and Radio Workers of America.

GSA was contacted for comment, but could not be reached.

(1) comment

Mike Edward

Nah...USCIS will end up building on the Grice Brook property. The City is forgetting that the new building will also serve as the future home of the Essex site employees as well (once those leases expire) and will need a little more than 5 acres. Also, the Grice Brook location is more ideal for those employees driving from outside of St. Albans.

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