AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage helped ceremonially break ground Friday for a new office building for more than 500 state workers that will take the place of a vacant former maintenance facility officials described as an eyesore.

When complete, the planned building at 109 Capitol St. is expected to house mainly state Department of Health and Human Services office workers.

The building is the first major addition to the State House complex since the 1970s and is being developed by Virginia firm FD Stonewater and built by Scarborough-based Landry/French Construction, said Alec Porteous, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, the agency that oversees real estate for the state.

The team of FD Stonewater and Landry/French was the successful bidder for the project, which state bid documents specified the state would lease for no more than $19 a square foot.

Porteous said ensuring the state has the best possible facilities, at the best value for taxpayers, has been a priority of LePage and his administration.

The building will be leased, not purchased, by the state, which is significant for the city of Augusta, as state-owned buildings aren’t subject to property taxes but privately owned buildings leased to the state are.

“While it’s going to be state workers in the building, it’s going to be on the tax rolls,” LePage said during groundbreaking ceremonies Friday morning, with excavators and other heavy equipment to his left, demolishing the last few few concrete remnants of the former state Department of Transportation maintenance facility that previously covered the hilly site. “I believe it is very, very important, that we get more buildings on the tax rolls so everybody can benefit, so the city of Augusta will benefit.”

In addition, LePage said state employees will have “a better place to work.”

“It’s a pretty bad building over there and I’m real proud we’re going to have a nice facility for people to work in, where the people of Maine are going to have better service,” he said. “Employees will be much closer together, much more efficient and productive. The entire state of Maine will benefit.”

Porteous said the Department of Health and Human Services’ current headquarters building, at 221 State St., where many of the workers who will occupy the new building are expected to move from, is outdated and inefficient, and administrators frequently have problems with its building systems. He said the building uses 300 percent more heating fuel than the average similarly sized building in New England.

Mayor David Rollins said the citizens of Augusta will benefit not just from the building providing property tax revenue to the city, but also in a modern, landscaped facility taking the place of the abandoned old DOT buildings on the site.

Augusta Planning Board members initially expressed concern that the building’s design and aesthetics weren’t worthy of such a prominent spot in the city. They asked the developer to make changes, including altering the building’s color. The developer did so and the board granted its final approval to the project in September.

Rollins said city officials perhaps would have liked to have seen other amenities at the site, and that it be more of a “showcase,” but he said that decision ultimately rested with the state, and the structure will be an attractive addition to that part of the city.

“It’s going to be exciting. I think it’s going to add to the overall ambience of the Capitol campus,” Rollins said after the ceremony. “We certainly tried to get the developer and state to work with us, but the state ultimately controlled it. They put out the request for proposals, and this is what the state felt, economically, they could afford.”

Ricker Hamilton, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the 104,000-square-foot building will bring multiple DHHS operations, as well as Department of Administrative and Financial Services workers who support those operations, into one location, making workers more efficient and effective.

“Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the construction of this facility is the consolidation of various offices into just one building,”Hamilton said. “DHHS is the largest agency in the state. With so many moving parts, our work is dependent on many offices working collaboratively. This new space makes it easier for them to connect, and in turn make a more efficient and effective human services system. The new facility will house employees from across the department who work in different locations now.”

Hamilton also said the building will provide easier access to the public, but at the same time implement new security enhancements, to keep the public and workers safe.

Claiborne Williams, principal of FD Stonewater, said the new building “will stand dignified and prominent” and his firm felt grateful and privileged to be able to develop it.

The project includes a second building, as well, a 26,000-square-foot office building that will be leased to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. That new building will be built on top of the hill on Capitol Street, overlooking the larger new building for state workers. The current retirement system building at the corner of Capitol and Sewall streets will be demolished to make way for the project. The former DOT facility buildings already have been demolished.

The new building for state office workers is expected to be complete and ready for occupancy in July 2019.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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