BARRE — A two-step plan for the state Agency of Transportation to occupy the top three floors of Barre City Place will begin to be executed as soon as the fire-damaged fourth floor of the Davis Building at National Life in Montpelier is ready for its next tenant.
After nearly two months of what he conceded was “radio silence,” Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn, recently provided VTrans employees displaced by the June fire with an update that answered what he described as “… the big question.”
“Yes, the Agency of Transportation is going to relocate to downtown Barre at Barre City Place,” Flynn wrote in an Oct. 19 email sent to VTrans employees and obtained by The Times Argus.
The email outlines a plan that will be executed in phases and bring new commuter bus service to Barre.
The plan will allow nearly 60 VTrans employees, who were moved over the summer into vacant second-floor space the state was already leasing at Barre City Place to stay put. That move was originally supposed to be temporary, but it will now be permanent as part of a broader plan that will soon see VTrans supplant the state Agency of Education as the only tenant of the top two floors at Barre City Place.
Education Secretary Dan French previously announced his agency’s looming move to the fire-damaged Davis Building at National Life, fueling speculation about who would move into the space it currently occupies and some local concern the state might leave it empty.
According to Flynn, that won’t happen.
“Maximizing the size of the state workforce in (Barre City Place) and no longer paying for unused space was 3 and is — a responsible move,” he wrote.
With the Agency of Education is expected to move to National Life early next year, Flynn indicated as soon as that happens “the first step” in the relocation plan will begin.
According to Flynn, “minor adjustments” will be made to the third- and fourth-floors of Barre City Place to accommodate VTrans employees now working in the second- and third floors of the fire-damaged Davis Building.
The “second step” is a little less certain and will require identifying suitably sized agency or department to move into fifth-floor space VTrans now occupies at the Davis building. When that happens, Flynn indicated, those workers would also make the move from Barre to Montpelier.
The plan would move offices VTrans occupies in two buildings on the National Life campus and consolidate them in two locations. Most of the workers – though it is unclear precisely how many – would end up at Barre City Place, while upgrades to the state-owned building that houses the agency’s materials lab, transportation management center and headquarters for the maintenance and operations center, will be modified to accommodate roughly 55 additional workers.
Christopher Cole, commissioner of the state Department of Buildings and General Services, confirmed the plan outlined in Flynn’s email was a “very likely” piece of a larger and less certain puzzle that should land the Agency of Education somewhere on the National Life campus.
Cole said “where” is one of a number of unanswered questions that has him stopping short of making any public announcements.
“I always use the word ‘potentially’ until somebody actually moves in,” he said.
Cole said the Flynn outlined what he believes is the most likely scenario with respect to VTrans, though he said it could take nearly a year to fully complete the contemplated transition.
With 55,000 square feet of office space leased in Barre City Place through 2022, Cole said the state doesn’t want to leave it vacant.
In his email, Flynn acknowledged speculation about a possible move to Barre City Place prompted some employees to express concerns. Many of those concerns involved parking and commuter transit service.
Cole said parking issues were still being worked out and Flynn indicated transit service would be launched when the initial wave of VTrans employees make the move to Barre.
“… Not only will this facilitate those of you who use public transportation now, it will provide a new and improved transit opportunity to the citizens of Barre,” he wrote.
Working with three commuter transit providers, Flynn indicated a draft plan for providing direct service to downtown Barre has been prepared.
Under the draft plan Green Mountain Transit would launch the Barre Express — with bus service stops in Burlington, Richmond Waterbury and downtown Barre. The LINK bus would arrive in Barre at 7:45 a.m. and depart at 4:15 p.m.
Green Mountain Transit working in conjunction with Rural Community Transportation would provide a commuter service for the Route 2 corridor that included stops in St. Johnsbury, West Danville, Marshfield, Plainfield, East Montpelier, downtown Barre and Montpelier. That bus would arrive in Barre at 8:30 a.m. and depart at 5:30 p.m.
A third commuter service — Tri Valley Transit’s 89’er North would include stops in Randolph, park and rides in Northfield and Berlin and downtown Barre. That bus would arrive in Barre at 8 a.m. and depart at 4:45 p.m.
Though Barre doesn’t have commuter bus service, Enterprise Alley was redeveloped to easily accommodate the larger buses a few feet from Depot Square and just across North Main Street from Barre City Place.