$20.5 Million Lab Construction Underway
VTC Embraces New Neighbor
More than six years after Tropical Storm Irene ripped through the state, one of the last of Vermont’s huge recovery projects is finally underway.
A delegation of dignitaries from state government was on hand in Randolph Center last week for the ceremonial ground-breaking of a new laboratory that will be shared by staff from the state’s Natural Resources and Agriculture agencies.
Concrete work has already begun on the facility, sited adjacent to the Vermont Technical College campus. As contractors from Engelberth Construction and S.D. Ireland took a brief pause in the day’s work, a small cluster of state officials, VTC employees, and members of the Vermont media assembled just beyond the college’s soccer fields to witness the ceremony.
Chris Cole, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, who served as master of ceremonies, noted that the unified laboratory project spanned two gubernatorial administrations and two Vermont Tech presidential tenures.
“That really, in my mind, demonstrates Vermont’s finest capabilities in terms of Vermonters working together to get important work done,” he said.
Governor Phil Scott handed out thanks and congratulations to the myriad people who had contributed to the project and lauded praise on the scores of state employees who have made do “in sub-par conditions” while the planning process stretched across years.
Long, Winding Road
In 2011, Irene’s waters destroyed key portions of Waterbury, including several buildings that housed various laboratories used by the state for such things as testing air quality, or dairy products, or the health of fish species.
Since that time, the state’s scientists have been working in a hodgepodge of facilities scattered around the state, particularly in Burlington, Essex, Montpelier, and Berlin.
A unified laboratory to replace those lost during Irene was the subject of months of study in Montpelier and the location in Randolph Center was approved by the legislature in 2015, due in great part to promotion of the site by former Rep. Marjorie Ryerson and former VTC President Dan Smith.
From there, the project did not receive a universally warm welcome. Some Randolph Center residents voiced concern that the lab would be a detriment to the historic village and that a proposed wood-chip heating building with its 65-foot-high stack would be an eyesore.
The site of that wood chip building was ultimately moved closer to the VTC campus in an attempt to satisfy that concern.
Nonetheless, the lab project wended its way through the Randolph Development Review Board and Act 250 review processes, garnering its last permits this past May.
The final design will be two stories and 36,486 square feet, according to the Agency of Agriculture. The main building will be positioned on a 13.12-acre parcel leased from VTC, that lies between the college’s campus and Furnace Road.
Construction cost is currently estimated at about $20.5 million, with an expected completion date in winter 2019.
Gov. Scott was followed at the dais by Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts, who pointed out that Vermont scientists in his agency last year conducted more than 8,400 dairy tests and 2,850 animal health tests, as well as tests on pesticides and on pathogens spread by ticks.
Deputy Secy. Peter Walke of the Agency of Natural Resources and Sen. Peg Flory of Rutland, who heads the Senate Committee on Institutions, both echoed the importance of the work that would be done at the new laboratories.
Vermont Tech President Pat Moulton applauded the project’s planners for choosing a location that would enable opportunities for students to work closely with state scientists.
“I’m sure it’s tempting,” she said, “to put facilities like this in more urban places in Vermont, but by building this here, it creates tremendous opportunities for our students to engage in internships, research, and employment with the State of Vermont.”
Just before a gathering in the college’s administrative building, the dignitaries took their gold-painted shovels and prepared to sink them into the earth.
Saying he was going to use “the big shovel,” Gov. Scott jumped into the cab of a nearby S.D. Ireland excavator and took a big scoop with the machine’s bucket, dumping it neatly near the podium.
As Scott stepped down from the excavator’s tracks, honored guests jubilantly joined in with their shovels.