Stefan Hard / Staff Photo National Life employee Joe Bliss loads pallets of carpet tile flooring taken out of National Life onto a tractor-trailer Tuesday for shipment to Tandus Flooring in Dalton, Tennessee, where they will be recycled into new flooring for National Life in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — Office carpet that might once have been headed for the landfill and cubicle arrangements popular in earlier decades are becoming history at the National Life Group headquarters as it continues retrofitting its campus.
Floor makeovers are about halfway done at National Life as the financial services company is renting office space to the state for workers displaced by Tropical Storm Irene, according to officials from both the company and the state.
The changes have turned mundane gridlike office cubicles into sleek dotcom-style workspaces with glass walls, new meeting room spaces and desks with lower and sometimes diagonal partitions. Similar to contemporary offices at magazines and advertising agencies in New York City, a wall at the new-look National Life serves as a welcoming area for each department and the backdrop to a front-desk receptionist.
Instead of elite corner-window offices for executives and higher-ups, community spaces are the new premium. In the state’s rented office space, Transportation Secretary Brian Searles and Natural Resources Commissioner Deb Markowitz have their workspaces right next to their colleagues.
Old cubicle walls, some more than 5 feet tall, have been significantly lowered to improve the working environment. National Life has also bought carpeting made of recycled materials and — with money accessed through Efficiency Vermont — new sensor-equipped lighting that illuminates based on the amount of daylight and the occupancy in the spaces.
“It’s much more collaborative,” said Heather Campbell, an environmental analyst for the state who has been in the new space since October. She and her team had been at the Waterbury state office complex until it was flooded by Irene, forcing them to first relocate to Winooski at the offices of the Vermont Student Assistance Corp.
Campbell, a Montpelier resident, was happy with her own move. Her commute to the National Life campus is a lot easier than driving to Winooski.
Kevin Henderson, a project manager for the state, said he thought the state always was working toward that new office design concept, but Irene really sparked the change, allowing the state to rid itself of the old-fashioned office cubicle format.
As part of the retrofitting, National Life has contracted with global carpet manufacturer Tandus Flooring, which reprocesses used carpet into new carpeting.
Maximilian Cavalli, a sales representative with Tandus Flooring, said the company pays truck drivers to haul old carpeting to Dalton, Ga., for storage and eventual remanufacture. According to Cavalli, the old flooring material can be reused seven times before the quality diminishes too greatly.
A portion of the carpeting threads as well as most of the vinyl backing is reused, Cavalli said. As opposed to rolls, the new carpeting comes in squares, typically 2 feet by 2 feet, that have an adhesive. The carpeting will last 15 to 20 years, he said.
National Life’s second vice president of facilities, purchasing and contracting, Tim Shea, said the arrangement saves waste from going into the Moretown landfill and saves money. It would cost about $100 a ton to dispose of, said Shea.
Over the past three years, National Life has recycled 150,000 square feet of carpeting, and by April the company will have replaced about 180,000 square feet over the last year, according to Shea.
As National Life reorganizes, the campus is adding 15 percent to 20 percent more office worker capacity. While the National Life workforce level has stayed about the same — around 900 employees — the newly resettled state workers bring the number of state employees there to around 1,050, Shea said. The campus also has about 100 other tenants.
To make the improvements, National Life has shuffled employees to different floors to clear an entire floor for renovations.
The turnaround has typically been three weeks, Shea said.
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