News stories last week have resulted in a significant misunderstanding about the move to the National Life campus by the Agency of Natural Resources. One daily paper even editorialized with words and phrases like “extravagant” and “costs run amok.” Based on numerous conversations and written communications with Vermonters, I know the impression they received was that there was a fourfold cost overrun, that the rehabbed space is luxurious, and that legislators were surprised when they only recently learned of the actual projected cost. None of those impressions is accurate.
This project is a terrific deal for taxpayers. Of the projected $8.6 million cost, National Life is paying $3.5 million. The cost per square foot is less than $50, including parking, for the renovation. By comparison, I am told a reasonable cost, with parking, for new construction is about $400 per square foot. We are adding over 400 workstations. That would mean, if we were building new, the cost would have been over $30 million, as opposed to the $8.6 million. In addition, before proceeding we verified that moving ANR to National Life would be far less expensive than renovating space for the agency at the Waterbury state office complex.
Last July, the administration publicly presented the first estimate of $7.5 million to legislators for the cost to rehabilitate space at National Life for approximately 1,000 employees, thereby allowing the 400 or so employees of ANR to join the Transportation and Commerce agencies at that location. The estimate was increased to $8.6 million in October and, again, shared with legislative committees. The earliest internal estimates I can find showed a range between $6.8 and $10 million. And even if, as we have heard, the House Institutions Committee heard an informal $2 million guesstimate prior to any project scoping, that certainly would not constitute an estimate to base cost overruns on.
Extravagant digs? No way. Modern, functional and efficient? Absolutely. The average space per employee is decreasing by over 50 square feet. Even the agency secretaries and commissioners will no longer have private offices. Some have wondered why all floors of the building had to be renovated. Simple: In order to end up with 400 more workstations at National Life, we needed to house more employees on every floor.
Consolidating the agencies of Natural Resources, Transportation and Commerce in one building will pay dividends for decades by fostering cooperation and collaboration, resulting in the kind of increased productivity so evident in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. In addition, this project allows hundreds of state employees to return to work in central Vermont. Without the move, the ANR departments would be scattered around Vermont from Graniteville to Fayston to Winooski in leased space for at least another two years.
The ANR move to National Life is a good news story that should not go unheralded.
Jeb Spaulding is Vermont secretary of administration under Gov. Peter Shumlin.
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