Home News and Features The State’s Flooded Buildings: Reopening Will Take Awhile

The State’s Flooded Buildings: Reopening Will Take Awhile

With the cleaning and disinfecting phase of flood recovery complete, the tentacles of white piping protruding from the Pavilion Building on State Street will be coming down soon. Photo by John Lazenby.
The tentacles of large, white pipes that have adorned the Pavilion Building at 109 State Street for the weeks since the flood in July will be coming down soon, according to Buildings and General Services (BGS) Commissioner Jennifer Fitch. But replanting the row of trees on the east side of the building where a series of large, green “coolers” have been installed on a thick bed of black stay-mat, is going to take awhile.

Of the 20 state-owned buildings in the Montpelier area, several suffered significant damage, either structural or to heating and ventilation equipment that will take several months, at minimum, to repair or replace.

Fitch explained that the initial “response phase” following the flood is complete. That has included drying out the flooded areas, reducing humidity, cleaning, and disinfecting. Where first floors were flooded in four historic State Street buildings (132, 134, 136, and 140), wooden floors and much of the inside walls have been removed. “They’re stripped down to the joists,” Fitch said.

Reopening those buildings, which include the Capital Region Visitor Center and the Vermont Arts Council, is going to take a while. Moreover, Fitch explained, balancing the financial resources, insurance, and state and federal recovery is critical to making the repairs with the least impact on taxpayers. For instance, making permanent repairs to the visitor center and similar buildings too quickly will jeopardize access to FEMA grants. 

The visitor center will not reopen for the fall tourism season. Photo by John Lazenby.
During what Fitch describes as the “interim phase,” planning, temporary repairs, and more permanent reconstruction will be guided by the need to maintain financial balance, Fitch said. These projects include setting up temporary systems for heating and ventilation while permanent systems are designed and built to be installed “at least two feet above the flood plain.” Buildings where this planning is underway include the Pavilion and the Supreme Court buildings where heating and ventilation machinery has been in sub-basements.

Looking forward, the architecture firm Freeman, French, Freeman, which guided the reconstruction of the state complex in Waterbury following the Tropical Storm Irene flood in 2011, has been contracted to develop mitigation plans for Montpelier’s state buildings. Fitch noted that the Waterbury Complex weathered the most recent storm successfully. 

“The large berm between the river and the buildings worked well. Even though the flood did top the berm, the flood waters were confined to the parking lot,” she said. The major cleanup there has been removing the silt and sediments dropped by the flood waters.

Both the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) building, which has seen the installation of flood protection features, and the recently constructed, wood-fired district heat plant just behind it escaped serious damage from the flood. The DMV has reopened and the heating plant is scheduled to restart in the fall, Fitch noted.

While some have suggested the district heat services should be expanded to include more downtown buildings, and possibly the federal building where the post office is located, the district heat system currently has two loops, one serving the state complex and the other connecting to city buildings downtown. Fitch said that opportunity is limited by the capacity of the heating plant to increase production. That capacity is calculated by projecting the demand on the coldest days of the winter. “There is not much capacity for expansion,” she said.

Since the visitor center will not reopen for the soon-to-arrive fall tourism season, Fitch is working with city officials to find a temporary, alternative location for welcoming visitors.

And a building that won’t be coming back: The small, red-with-white-trim information building at the intersection of State and Elm has been removed because of flood damage.

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