WESTMINSTER -- After more than seven years of searching for the right site, planning and negotiating a land deal, the state is finally moving ahead with its plan to construct a new $6.2 million, 16,000 square-foot State Police barracks on Westminster Heights Road near Exit 5 of Interstate 91.
The state has filed an Act 250 permit application for the project and also will go before the Westminster Development Review Board to seek local permits for the new building.
The Vermont State Police wants to shut down the outdated and inefficient barracks in Brattleboro and Rockingham and consolidate all the troopers in the single Westminster station.
Technology, officials say, allows troopers to do all their work from their vehicles and it is less important where their office is located.
The plan goes back to 2007 when state officials began to look for alternate sites along the I-91 corridor and a location near Exit 5 was determined to be the most likely candidate for the new barracks.
Capt. Ray Keefe, D-Troop Commander, oversees the Brattleboro and Rockingham barracks, as well as the Royalton barracks, and has been involved with the Westminster project from the start. Keefe said projects in Brattleboro and Rockingham have been put off for years while the state tried to move the Westminster project forward.
"We are absolutely ready," Keefe said. "This has been a very long process, and we have needed new barracks for a long time. I'll feel much better when the first shovel goes in the ground.
The state wants to build a 16,000-square-foot public safety facility with a detached 3,400-square-foot garage. There are also plans to erect a 100-foot-tall monopole with two-way radio antennas and a microwave dish.
A 2008 feasibility study found that the Rockingham and Brattleboro barracks were "both substandard and in need of total replacement to overcome severe deficiencies in building size, physical condition, code and ADA requirements, inadequate building and site security, deficient evidence custody, aged technology and overcrowding due to personnel growth."
The Rockingham building was constructed in 1965 while the Brattleboro facility opened in 1970.
That feasibility study also found that the "most efficient and cost effective way to address all of these public safety needs is to consolidate the two substandard field stations and to construct one, state-of-the-art facility in a central location."
"The Rockingham and Brattleboro barracks are both way past their prime," Keefe said. "The troopers are going to feel better about their work, and it will help their morale and professionalism. The new building will improve the safety of the troopers and of prisoners."
Keefe said the new building will also save the state money. The new facility will be much more energy efficient than the two older buildings and the police will probably eliminate one commander position and other staff when the two barracks consolidate.
"This project means a lot to me," said Department of Buildings and General Services Commissioner, and former Windham County resident, Michael Obuchowski. "It is one of the large projects in the state that will touch my former county. It is quite close to home."
Even by state standards, Obuchowski acknowledged that the Westminster barracks plan has taken a long time to move forward.
At one point the state even began looking for alternate sites, but Obuchowski said state officials always believed the Westminster Heights land was the best location for the new facility.
"We wish it would have happened quicker, but our persistence has won out," Obuchowski said. "The Department of Public Safety never gave up on this site. They knew this was where they wanted to be."
While the state will not pay full taxes on the land, Westminster will receive a payment in lieu of taxes. This year the state paid Westminster about 16 percent of the value of the land it owns in town.
The state identified the Westminster Heights Road land as its primary choice back in 2010 but a complicated land swap between the town of Westminster and the former land owner, Westminister Realty, prevented the deal from going through. Westminister Realty, which is owned by Todd and Larry Enright, needed the town to grant a right of way when Green Mountain Power was building its new facility on Westminster Heights Road.
In exchange, Westminister Realty was supposed to give the town two acres of land for a recycling center. The town granted the right of way and GMP constructed its new building but the Enrights never granted the town of Westminster the two acres of land.
Gordon Bristol purchased the 13-acre parcel from the Enrights in January 2013 for $83,000 and Bristol was able to complete the land swap with Westminster. The state then purchased 8.6 acres of the land from Bristol for $260,000 earlier this year.
Bristol said he got involved when he found out the project was stalled due to the encumbrances on the land between the Enrights and the town. Bristol said it took him about a year to settle those obligations.
"I kept seeing this project on hold, on hold, on hold and I thought it was absolutely the wrong thing to be happening. I though I might be able to solve this problem that had been going on for five years," Bristol said. "I believe in the State Police and everything they do. They deserve to have this facility."
Joe Aja, the project manager with the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, said the state could not get any permits while that land deal was incomplete. Aja said the state hopes to get its permit and do some preliminary work in the fall, though most of the construction will probably take place in 2015. He said it will take about 18 months to complete the facility.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.