Sharp-Sited Project

A grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has kept countless Vermonters on the job

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

chc_lead_cmykThe major players in bringing the Community Health Centers of Burlington headquarters project to fruition are, clockwise from center front, Alison Calderara, CHCB community relations and development director; Bert DeLaBruere, president of ReArch; Dave Simmons, CHCB finance director; Jesse Beck, president and principal in charge, Freeman French Freeman Inc.; Jack Donnelly, executive director of CHCB; and Diana Greenough, CHCB dental director.

On the morning of March 7 this year, during the largest March snowstorm on record in Burlington, an amazing thing happened. At the Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB) on Riverside Avenue, where Phase I of a 35,676-square-foot building project was in progress, every employee from every company working on the project showed up for work. This, even though many roads were barely passable, schools were shut down, and most businesses were closed.

Workers couldn’t even access the site because of all the snow that had piled up, but Jim Hoag, site superintendent for ReArch Co., the construction management firm, managed a three-hour effort to clear a path in through the Charlebois Truck Parts lot next door.

With the snow continuing to mount steadily, it became apparent there was no way the site could be made ready for work that day. Hoag decided the site was not safe and ordered all site personnel to go home.

This, says Evan Langfeldt, director of business development for ReArch, is a testament to the quality of all involved: “that despite a blizzard, all site personnel wanted to — and did — show up for work that day.”

The project

Anyone who’s ever visited CHCB for either a meeting or a clinical visit knows how tight the quarters were. Then there was the dearth of parking — a few measly spaces behind the building, erected in 1954 by Vermont Mattress Co. and, in the early 1990s, refurbished by a developer for commercial and office space.

The first floor was home to Jasper’s supermarket, and the second floor became home to the Community Health Center. The health center eventually bought the building and, following a major renovation, opened its 10,000-square-foot flagship facility in 2001.

By 2009, the health center was again bursting at the seams. Besides primary and preventive medical care for all ages, and a behavioral health program, a dental center had been incorporated into the building.

Employee numbers had risen to around 130, and CHCB had launched outlying programs such as Safe Harbor, the only homeless health care program in the state; the Pearl Street Youth Clinic for at-risk youths ages 16 to 26; and the School-Based Dental Clinic at H.O. Wheeler School, serving uninsured children city-wide.

The name was tweaked, making the word “center” a plural to reflect the evolution of off-site programs.

Parts of the facility were built in 1881, so although it was renovated in 2001, architects and engineers determined it was no longer a wise investment to add to the aged infrastructure, and new construction was deemed the most cost-effective use of community dollars.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, created to spur the economy and “help get us out of the recession,” says Donnelly, the federal government put out grant opportunities to municipalities and an opportunity to federally qualified health centers.

These health centers were invited to enter a competitive grant process for funding a capital project to either renovate or build a new facility, Donnelly says. “We decided we couldn’t buy land, but only renovate what we had.”

Working with an architect, CHCB created a preliminary, but comprehensive, design, nearly doubling the center from about 17,000 square feet to almost 36,000.

Parking has always been an issue, Donnelly continues. “Part of the plan was to put two levels of parking underneath the building, adding another 26,584 square feet, or 74 parking spaces. It won’t cure our parking problem completely, but it makes great inroads.”

The CHCB applied for $11,364,000, the project’s price tag, says Donnelly. “Of that amount, we promised to raise $400,000 from the community — about 4 percent of the total — so we got a federal grant for $10,964,000: 96 percent of the cost of the project.

After the grant was awarded, CHCB sent out requests-for-proposal for the architectural work and the construction management. Freeman French Freeman won the architectural bid, and ReArch Co. won the construction management bid.

Bert DeLaBruere is president of ReArch, and Jesse Beck, president of Freeman French Freeman. Both are native Vermonters — DeLaBruere from Newport and Beck from Shelburne.

ReArch managed the hiring of the subcontractors and Freeman French Freeman hired the engineers.

One thing of which Donnelly is quite proud is the fact that, through the depth of the recession, “this project was able to bring work to a large number of Vermont companies that needed to survive during a weak economy.”

The challenges

From the get-go, everyone involved knew there would be hurdles to cross,

“We were jumping out of our skin when we were asked for a proposal,” says Beck, whose company has designed a number of health care facilities in the state. “We immediately got excited about how to design such a big structure on this site.”

The first hurdle, a tight timeline, arrived with the grant: The project had to be ready to go as soon as the grant was approved and be completed within two years of receiving the funding.

Next was the need to continue seeing patients throughout construction. The dental clinic and the administration offices were temporarily moved off-site. Then the plan was designed in two phases: Phase I was to build a new structure out back, taking up the site of the former parking lot and 60 feet beyond to the rear lot line. This allowed the health center to continue seeing patients in the old building.

“We had to keep the existing facility in operation while we built, literally, a five-story building behind it,” says Beck. “That’s because there are two stories of clinic, and two stories of parking garage plus a huge retaining wall underneath that. We have put in over 6,000 hours architecturally alone on this project.”

Upon completion of Phase I in July, the original building was razed as part of Phase II, which consists of an L-shaped addition housing the administrative offices, employee break rooms, meeting spaces and a welcoming outdoor “healing garden.”

Completion — except for final landscaping, exterior painting, and paving — is projected for February, when the administrative group moves back in. Things are pretty much on schedule and on budget.

The location presented the next challenges. First, says Beck, was “putting this much building on this site and making it look friendly and residential in scale. On the renderings, the front of the building is a two-story residential-scale building. Behind that little facade, you’ve got over 60,000 square feet back there with two floors of parking underneath.”

“It’s like building in downtown Boston,” says DeLaBruere, who worked on Boston construction sites while studying construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology. “It’s not like out here at Technology Park, where you have open land and no neighbors nearby.”

Fortunately, the CHCB has friendly neighbors. “We got wonderful cooperation from Burlington Housing Authority, Queen City Steel, Roger Charlebois Truck Parts, and Richard and Pauline Niquette,” says Donnelly. “In order to get our footings in the ground, we had to get easements from the abutting neighbors to allow us to work on their properties and, in some cases, to actually encroach upon their property lines.”

Queen City Steel has allowed CHCB to park, on its land, the big crane used to lift materials onto the CHCB property. “Roger Charlebois let us bring all the trucks through his property to get to ours,” says Donnelly.

“We would literally go to them a week in advance,” says DeLaBruere. “We’d talk about the logistics and what we were doing. It was just a total collaborative effort; without them this project would not have started.”

Throughout, says Beck, it has been like “a really challenging design jigsaw puzzle. We try to bring humor to every meeting.”

It is expected the building will be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) building. “There has been a conscious effort to recycle materials that are reusable,” says Donnelly. “I think the estimate is that 75 percent of materials from the old health center and various parts of the construction project will have been recycled in some form or another.”

He is most pleased about the economic boon to the Burlington area. “We have been able to push through a construction project that has kept a lot of people employed who might not have been. And depending on what multiplier you want to use, theoretically that $11 million has translated into something like $17 million of economic activity.” •


In addition to ReArch and Freeman French Freeman, the Community Health Centers project put to work the following 38 subcontractors and five engineering firms.

A.C. Hathorne Co., Williston

All Cycle, Williston

Amoskeag Woodworking, Colchester

A.P. Timberline Construction, West Rutland

Bay State Elevator, Essex Junction

Beaudry Painting, Rutland

Buckley Associates, Albany, N.Y.

Cool Shades Window Tinting, Jeffersonville

CSE Inc., Williston

Curtis Lumber, Burlington

Denis White Interior Contractors, Williston

Desrochers Bulk Service, Derby

Essex Equipment, Essex Junction

Friend Construction, Bristol

Future Floors, Colchester

Gilman Rich Carpentry, Franklin, N.H.

Glass Connection, Colchester

Green Mountain Safety Consulting, Burlington

GWA Construction, Fair Haven

HOK Masonry, Johnson

Isaacson Structural Steel, Berlin, N.H.

Kelley Brothers, Williston

Lajeunesse Interiors, East Barre

Loso’s Professional Janitorial Services, South Burlington

New England Air Systems, Williston

Nicom Coatings, Barre

North Country Fire Protection, Essex Junction

Omega Electric, South Burlington

Overhead Door, Williston

Pinnacle Window Solutions, Hallowell, Maine

Reliance Steel, Colchester

rk Miles, Middlebury

Round Hill Fence, Orleans

Russell Supply, South Burlington

SD Ireland Brothers, South Burlington

SD Ireland Concrete Construction, South Burlington

Specialty Coatings, South Burlington

Worksafe Traffic Control Industries, Barre

Engineering firms

Engineering Ventures, Burlington: structural and civil

L.N. Consulting, Winooski: mechanical and electrical

SE Group, Burlington: landscape architect

Knight Consulting Engineers, Williston: geotechnical

Krebs & Lansing Consulting Engineers, Colchester: site surveying