Bennington workers may return to state office building

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(Host) State workers in Bennington may end up returning to the old state office building, after extensive renovations.

The House version of this year’s capital bill includes eight million dollars to demolish and rebuild parts of the abandoned Bennington State Office Building. The project would cost $16 million over two years.

The building was closed in 2007 after a number of workers contracted respiratory illnesses and a disease called sarcoidosis.

Though no definite link between the building and the illnesses was proved, air quality problems were uncovered, especially in an older section that would be torn down under the House plan.

Some officials have tried to get the offices moved from Bennington’s outskirts to two downtown sites. But environmental questions have also arisen in one of those sites.

Representative Cynthia Browning of Arlington is on the House Institutions Committee, which made the recommendation.

(Browning) "And by the time we needed to make the decision for the Capital Bill, the option for reusing the existing site began to look better. And this position was solidified by the fact that there was a survey of Vermont state employees who worked at the old site and it turns out that they would prefer to go back to the old site if the buildings were gutted, rebuilt, you know, than go to any new sites that could have unknown problems."

(Host) State Buildings Commissioner Gerry Myers says he doesn’t think discussions of the issue are over yet. He says the House proposal is similar to a recommendation from the Douglas Administration – except for the price tag.

(Myers) "We believed that we could make that building occupiable and the big line in the sand is that this House Institutions proposal is going with $16 million dollars or more, so I think when you throw and additional six-to-eight million dollars at a project, it then opens up a whole lot of other possibilities that probably haven’t been given due consideration."

(Host) The Bennington state offices, including the District Court and Human Services, have been housed in trailers near the shuttered complex.

The bill now goes before the Senate.

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