BRATTLEBORO -- Bob Stevens loves Sheetrock.
Stevens was inside the Brooks House the day after a five-alarm fire in 2011 caused significant damage to the historic 1871 building, and he has been working almost three years to stabilize and rebuild it.
During a tour of the Brooks House Thursday he pointed out the painted Sheetrock walls which represent an important milestone in the $24 million rehabilitation project.
"When you see Sheetrock it means you're in the home stretch," he said. "We're in good shape. We are where we need to be and I am optimistic that it is all going to be done on time."
An electrical fire started in the Brooks House on April 17, 2011, damaging the historic Main Street building.
Water from the fire fighting teams caused further damage, and the building has been vacant ever since.
After working almost a full year to put together a financing package to rehabilitate the structure, Stevens and his four partners closed on the property in July 2013, and work crews have been on site ever since.
On Thursday the Brooks House Development Team led a group of supporters, business leaders and members of the media through the Brooks House.
Stevens said there have been plenty of surprises while gutting the building, including sagging floors, mold and rotting wood, and masonry work that needed attention.
But he said for the most part the work has been progressing, and on any given day up to 100 workers are on the site among the building's four stories.
Just a little more than half of the work is done, Stevens said during the tour, and Community of College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College should be able to move in during August in preparation of the beginning of the school year in September.
The colleges are expected to bring about 350 students and another 50 staff members into downtown everyday that there are classes.
The scope of the massive project was evident during the tour, with 143-year-old brick walls and columns visible through steel joists and frame work that will support the new walls that are being installed.
Piles of insulation and lumber stood among large electric construction equipment while workers in hard hats walked into and out of the partially finished rooms.
Stevens said some of the apartments are still available, and not all of the retail spaces have been rented.
Still he said interest in the apartments and in the retail spaces continues to grow, and Stevens said he was not concerned with how empty spaces would affect the development team's ability to meet its financial obligations.
The team in investing up to $24 million in the re-development project, even though the property is expected to be assessed at about $8 million.
When all of the work is done the 80,000 square-feet in the Brooks House will have been completely renovated and refurbished.
"It's all new," Stevens said. "It's going to be an all-new building inside the old shell."
The new structure will include 23 apartments, 18,000 square-feet for the two colleges, 4,000 square-feet of office space and 32,000 square-feet of retail and restaurants.
The restored lobby will lead to a two-story atrium.
"This is going to bring new organizations downtown and with the colleges here there will be hundreds of people," said Ben Taggard, one of the five investors of the Brooks House Development Team. "It's exciting to see this transformation and think about the effect this is going to have on all of downtown Brattleboro."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.