AUGUSTA — The glass, steel and concrete walls of the old Maine Public Employees Retirement System building started crashing down Wednesday.

The work at the corner of Sewall and Capitol streets got underway to make room for a parking lot and green space for the large new state office building nearing completion behind it.

The 90 employees of Maine PERS moved into their new space Jan. 14, just up Capitol Street from their old digs, in a new building built by developer FD Stonewater. The moves are part of a larger project, involving the construction of the 104,000-square-foot building at 109 Capitol St. that will be leased to the state as office space.

The Maine PERS building, built in 1975, needed to come down to make way for parking and a landscaped area for that building, which is expected to house more than 500 state workers, primarily employees of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

David Heidrich, director of communications for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the state has received an occupancy permit and a certificate of substantial completion for the 109 Capitol St. building. He said the majority of the furniture for the third floor of the building already has been delivered and installed.

“We are hoping to begin the process of moving employees into the new building in early April and hope that it will be fully occupied by early May,” Heidrich said in an email.

The building originally was not expected to be ready for occupancy until July 1.

Excavators tear apart the old Maine Public Employees Retirement System building on Wednesday at the corner of Sewall and Capital streets near the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

As part of the larger project, Maine PERS officials agreed to sell their now-former 24,000-square-foot building to the developer and sign a long-term lease for the new 26,000-square-foot Capitol Street building, the entrance to which is on Florence Street.

Sandy Matheson, executive director of Maine PERS, said the old building was in need of substantial and potentially costly repairs and renovation, so officials instead decided to enter into a 30-year lease for the new building. She said so far it seems like it was a good move.

“I think, collectively, we love it,” Matheson said of the new building. “It’s well designed and it works, so far, extremely well for us. The old building was going to be cost-prohibitive to remodel. This is definitely a more effective use of the same dollars.”

She said she and other Maine PERS workers felt at least some nostalgia, and found it a bit shocking to watch the old building be taken down Wednesday, a massive orange excavator picking it apart and knocking it down bit by bit.

“We spent a lot of time in that building, but all in all we’re very happy we made the move, and very, very happy in the new building,” Matheson said.

Maine PERS made the move from the old to new building largely over the weekend of Jan. 12-13 after weeks of planning. Employees packed things up that Friday, Jan. 10, when the building was closed to the public, and items were moved from one building to the other over the weekend. The staff unpacked the following Monday. They were open for business again that Tuesday, in the new location.

Excavators tear apart the old Maine Public Employees Retirement System building on Wednesday at the corner of Sewall and Capital streets near the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Heidrich said demolition of the old building is expected to be complete within two weeks.

Ground was broken for the overall 109 Capitol St. project in December 2017, the first major addition to the State House complex since the 1970s, officials said at the time.

Virginia-based FD Stonewater teamed with Scarborough-based Landry/French Construction on the project. FD Stonewater officials did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

The Augusta Planning Board approved the project in September 2017, despite the concerns of some board members and the public that the appearance of the new building wasn’t a good fit for such a prominent location.

For many years the property was home to a large, green Department of Transportation maintenance facility. Those buildings were demolished in October 2017. DOT maintenance operations formerly at the site were moved to a new location in north Augusta in 2014, at 66 Industrial Drive.

Heidrich said the state has a 30-year lease for the building, at $19 a square foot initially, then $25 a square foot in years 26 to 30 of the lease term.

Because the building will be leased, not owned, by the state, the building will generate property tax revenues for the city of Augusta. State-owned buildings are not subject to local property taxes.

Most of the workers who will occupy 109 Capitol St. are Department of Health and Human Services employees, many of whom now work at the department’s headquarters building at 221 State St. State officials said that building is outdated, has reached the end of its useful life and will not be re-occupied by state workers after they move to the new building.

Heidrich said 221 State St. won’t be vacated  fully until the winter of 2020, because it is home to the Health and Environmental Testing Lab, which will move to a new location on the state’s East Campus when renovations to the Greenlaw Building are complete.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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