PORTLAND – Often, renovated old buildings are looked on fondly and their owners are careful to preserve much of the structures’ past.

That wasn’t the case with 110 Free St., the new home of MaineHealth. The building was a Sears store 30 years ago, and it was an office building for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine after that.

“It was a Soviet-style building,” pretty much lacking in personality, said Mechelle Connolly, executive assistant to the president of the health care organization, whose members include Maine Medical Center.

MaineHealth will move into the building next week after doing an extensive renova-

tion, including gutting the central portion of the structure to create an indoor courtyard.

Connolly has helped to oversee much of the $6.5 million renovation of the building, which MaineHealth bought last year for $3.5 million. More than 200 employees, who have worked in nine separate leased spaces, will move in over the course of three days starting Tuesday.

The building is now flooded with natural light from a skylight above the courtyard. Before the renovation, the space had a severe lack of windows and natural light, Connolly said.

She was told that some areas of the building were so cut off from the outside that there was a system of lights on a wall to inform workers of weather conditions — green was for sunny, yellow was for cloudy, and red meant rain or snow.

The renovation put a heavy emphasis on allowing change and adaptation, Connolly said.

For instance, electricity cables were installed under removable floor panels so workers can reconfigure cubicles and offices quickly by placing wires and outlets where they are needed. Office walls are designed to be removed quickly.

“It would just take a couple of hours to switch things around,” Connolly said.

The building has a kitchen area where workers can heat up meals. The kitchen has access to a second-floor rooftop deck that will be open next spring.

With plenty of conference rooms, MaineHealth can save money by not renting space in hotels, Connolly said. And a catering kitchen will enable the organization to host events into the night, without having people leave for dinner breaks.

“I came through this building probably a year ago and it was a very different building then — it was a three-floor basic office bunker,” Connolly said. “The transformation “was absolutely amazing to see.”.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]