(Host) The long debate over Bennington’s so-called "sick" state office building reached an official resolution with the passage of the Capital Bill on Friday.
The decision calls for state employees to return to the complex that was closed, due to worker respiratory ailments and a debilitating disease called sarcoidosis.
But before they do, part of the building will be demolished and rebuilt, and the rest will be gutted and refurbished.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) For two years Bennington’s District and family courts, probation and parole, and human services offices have been located in trailers on either side of the empty complex that *used to house those services.
The building was found to have serious air quality problems. But what to do about it was a matter of sharp debate, up until almost the last minute of the legislative session. Many people – including Bennington Senator Dick Sears, called for at least some state offices to be moved downtown.
(Sears) "I think what’s happened is, it’s an opportunity lost for generations to come from downtown Bennington."
Both Sears and Bennington Senator Robert Hartwell favored moving human services workers to a leased building in the town center. The state complex is about a mile north. Senator Sears:
(Sears) "The downtown merchants made a case for having the state offices downtown, the town manager, the planning board and unfortunately the delegation itself, the House delegation was split on the issue and the fact that there was some issues regarding the health of the building at 210 South Street didn’t help us."
(Keese) Those issues included the discovery of a chemical called trichloroethylene or TCE in the building downtown advocates hoped to lease. TCE has been linked to cancer. And even though the problem was addressed and the building tested clean, the finding was a source of anxiety for some workers.
Alice Emmons chairs the House Institutions Committee, and was part of the conference committee that made the final decision. She says one deciding factor was a worker survey taken by the Vermont State Employees Union.
(Emmons) "Eighty percent of them were willing – Wanted- to stay together, and they wanted to stay at the current site as long as the old portion of the building was torn down and rebuilt and the newer portion was gutted and renovated. That took a lot of the fear away."
(Keese) Rebuilding the complex is expected to cost about $16 million over two years. Emmons says over the long run, leasing would have been more costly than rebuilding on land the state already owns.
Workers were still digesting the news as the week began.
Carolyn Hickock has worked in the complex for more than 24 years. She says she doesn’t mind going back. But she wants some reassurances.
(Hickock) "I want to know who’s going to be monitoring the process, because for me that’s the big issue. That it be monitored so it’s done correctly. Because too often when money gets tight, the best of intentions and the plans go out the window."
(Keese) State Buildings and General Services Commissioner Gerry Myers says he hopes to meet with the Bennington workers soon to discuss the project. He says the complex should be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2011.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.