Valley News

Series: Rest Area Construction Plagued by Problems

Work Not Finished at Hartford Rest Area (Aug. 2, 2012)

Hartford — The public debut of the rebuilt Interstate 91 southbound rest area has been pushed back — again — into September, state officials said this week, as a new subcontractor began the process of replacing bathroom tiles that the state had deemed inadequate.

Project Manager Joe Aja, with the Department of Buildings and General Services, said yesterday that Anthony Mion & Son, Inc. of Schenectady, N.Y. had begun the retiling process earlier this week.

Bob Rea, director of the regional district that includes White River Junction for the Department Building and General Services, told the Valley News in June that there were “aesthetic” issues surrounding the original tiling of the facility’s three bathrooms.

Representatives from East Coast Flooring, the Londonderry, N.H.-based company that completed the original tiling, declined comment yesterday.

Aja said Hanover-based general contractor Trumbull-Nelson was aiming to complete construction of the rest stop facility by the end of the month, and the state would then need time to install display racks and marketing paraphernalia.

Trumbull-Nelson Project Manager Tony Instasi did not respond to requests for comment.

State officials had previously hoped to open the facility by the traffic-heavy Memorial Day holding weekend, but said longer than expected construction would push them past that target date into at least July. A subsequent target, Aug. 1, passed yesterday.

It was unclear yesterday who would foot the bill for retiling. Rea, who is out of the office this week and not available for comment, previously told the Valley News that the state’s position is Trumbull-Nelson would be responsible for those additional costs, and could potentially defer to East Coast Flooring.

“We’re not at this point in time willing to pay for anything until something is proven that it’s our mistake,” he said in June.

Aja said yesterday that those issues have yet to be finalized, and that the “true costs” of the retiling process have yet to be determined.

The rest stop was originally slated to cost $4.1 million, including architectural and construction costs.

Aja said the state has been pleased with Trumbull-Nelson’s response to the problem.

“Trumbull-Nelson hasn’t walked away from the site. They’re working with us, so that’s a good thing,” he said.

Officials have said work was initially delayed when engineers discovered ground water issues at the start of construction, and that the process of extracting water out of the ground lengthened construction time and increased costs.

State officials closed the rest area late last spring to raze the old center, which was built in the 1960s between exits 9 and 10.

The new 5,000-square-foot facility will include a wood-chip boiler, solar panels and an increased number of toilets in the bathrooms.

Ed von Turkovich, director of government business services at the Department of Buildings and General Services, told the Valley News in May that the facility handles more than 250,000 people each year.

He called the new welcome center another “critical” opportunity for businesses to advertise.

Opening of I-91 Rest Stop In Hartford Delayed Again (Aug. 31, 2012)

Hartford — The $4.1 million rest stop on the southbound side of Interstate 91 was supposed to open by Memorial Day. Now, officials say, it will not be open by Labor Day.

Maybe Columbus Day?

State officials yesterday said they have not set an opening date for the new 5,000-square-foot facility, which has been plagued by issues with tile work in its bathrooms. “(M)aybe the first or second week of October, at the latest,” said Bob Rea, regional district director for the state’s Department of Buildings and General Services.

The retiling process continues, he said, as well as other minor “punch list” details, such as testing mechanical systems.

“It’s always disappointing that we can’t open a visitor center so it can meet the needs of the public, but we understand that these things happen and we need to be patient,” said Ed von Turkovich, director of government business services at the Department of Buildings and General Services.

The project budget has stayed within the original $4.2 million projection, Rea said, 80 percent of which paid by by federal funds.

At the beginning of August, officials had hoped construction would be completed by the end of the month, noting that the state’s Department of Tourism & Marketing would then need several weeks to supply the building with brochures and other marketing materials, suggesting the building might open sometime in September.

That was after two previous target dates this summer had passed without celebration.

The rest area ran into problems earlier this summer when the state rejected tile work in the facility’s new bathrooms, calling in an independent tile inspector who agreed the work was unsatisfactory, Rea said.

The issues related to “irregularity in the pattern,” Rea said yesterday.

Hanover-based general contractor Trumbull-Nelson later hired a new subcontractor, Anthony Mion & Son Inc., of Schenectady, N.Y., to retile the bathrooms, according to state project manager Joe Aja.

A voicemail left with the subcontractor who completed the original tile work, East Coast Flooring of Londonderry, N.H., was not returned yesterday.

Messages left with Trumbull-Nelson project manager Tony Instasi were not returned yesterday.

Rea said yesterday that the state would not be responsible for paying for the costs related to retiling. He could not say whether Trumbull-Nelson or East Coast Flooring would cover the costs, or how much they amounted to.

The extra costs the state has incurred — about $2,000 — relate to recommendations made by the independent tile inspector that were not included in the original plans, Rea said.The new center will feature a wood pellet boiler, solar panels, and more toilets — four in the women’s rest room, two toilets and three urinals in the men’s room, and a “flex” room with four toilets to use for bus groups or when one of the other restrooms is being cleaned.

State officials closed the rest area late last spring to raze the old center, which was built in the 1960s between exits 9 and 10 and records an average of 250,000 visitors a year.

Since that time, convenience stores at the Interstate 91 southbound exit near the rest area have noticed a bump in customers looking for a quick bathroom pit stop, said Rhonda Rice, who works at the Station Market convenience store inside the White River Junction Greyhound bus stop.

Bathroom-seekers didn’t translate into a huge increase in business, she said, but “they would pick up at least a drink or water, gum, candy, something like that,” she said.

“Now we’re going to see what’s going to happen when (the rest area is) opened up,” she said.

New Rest Area to Open Monday (Sept. 29, 2012)

Hartford — The toilets are plenty, and the tiles look beautiful.

After a year-and-a-half saga that saw its debut date delayed repeatedly due to tatty tiling in new bathrooms, the rebuilt rest area on Interstate 91 southbound will open to travelers on Monday. The new 5,000-square-foot facility replaces a nearly 50-year-old structure that “would have fit in this lobby,” joked Lisa Sanchez, a supervisor in the state’s Information Center Division, as staffers unpacked boxes of brochures and prepared to hang panels advertising Vermont businesses earlier this week.

Scheduled to be open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and replete with free coffee and Wi-Fi, the rest area, state officials have long suggested, will provide an advertising opportunity for Vermont businesses and a promotional hub for products, cultural attractions and areas of interest. Pegged as a “gateway to Vermont,” it’s expected to host more than 300,000 visitors in its first year, a 20 percent jump from the 250,000 yearly visitors that the old center saw in the past.

“We’re the billboards, really, that you don’t see on the interstate,” said Ed von Turkovich, a director within the Department of Buildings & General Services, which operates the facility. “We have an opportunity to provide a strong marketing component for the state, for the businesses that area all over the state … but certainly the immediate region, heading south on Interstate 91.”

Getting to this point, though, was not so easy.

The old center was razed late last spring, initiating a construction process that spanned 18 months. Built with a Congressional earmark, the $4.1 million project ran into complications early on when engineers discovered groundwater issues, forcing a “dewatering” process that delayed the start of construction and increased costs.

But the real struggles came later, when state officials rejected a subcontractor’s tiling work in the bathrooms for aesthetic reasons. A long retiling process forced the state to delay a Memorial Day opening and several subsequent target dates.

Bob Rea, regional district director within the Department of Buildings and General Services, said the project budget stayed within the original $4.2 million projection, 80 percent of which was paid for by federal funds.

Read previously told the Valley News that the state would not be responsible for the retiling costs, which are for general contractor Trumbull-Nelson and the original tile subcontractor, East Coast Flooring of Londonderry, N.H., to sort out.

Another subcontractor, Anthony Mion & Son, Inc., of Schenectady, N.Y., was hired for the retiling process after an independent inspector found the original work to be unsatisfactory because of irregularities in the patters, Rea said.

This week, Sanchez said the appearance of the bathroom tiling — walls of white squares with a green-and-black checkerboard border, and a pattern of pale yellow and light teal on the floors — has improved significantly since the first go-round.

“It’s much better,” she said. “It actually looks like it should now.”

The bathrooms themselves are another pitching poing for the state: The previous facility, built in 1964, offered a total of six stalls split between the men’s and women’s rooms.

The new facility has a significant increase, with four stalls in the women’s room, and three urinals and two stalls in the men’s room. It also adds two new bathrooms: a four-stall “swing” room, available for when one of the other bathrooms is closed for cleaning, and a separate one-room, single-toilet restroom for families.

The additional toilets were made possible by an extension of a major sewer line along Route 5 south of White River Junction, which also allowed for the construction of the nearby National Guard Armory last year. Elsewhere in the building, limited seating areas are likely to include Vermont-made rocking chairs inside and eight picnic tables outdoors.

While the building does not include a permanent room for the Border Control, that agency may choose to return to the area at any time to set up a checkpoint trailer, von Turkovich said. The building will house a small office for the State Police, where troopers can complete paperwork and interact with the public during high tourist times, said Capt. Ray Keefe.

The nearest barracks is about 24 miles north of the rest area, Keefe said. State Police sometimes used Hartford’s police station for paperwork and other clerical tasks, but were glad to accept office space when Buildings & General Services approached with an offer, he said. State police have offices several other areas in the state, he said.

“It makes sense,” Keefe said. “Any time they make a new (rest area), we definitely want to grab an office in there.”

Kathleen Carriere, who operates Tour Windsor Vermont and will use the rest area to advertise, said she was “thrilled that the center is expanding and opening.” The old rest area didn’t have much display space, she said, but she’s taking advantage of one of several glass display cases in the new center where businesses can display their products or advertising, free of charge.

“Since we’re just one exit below, I’ve been watching the construction every time I pass it and waiting with bated breath,” Carriere said. “I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful, and it’s great that it’s here.”

Mike Pierce, who owns Mike’s Store and Deli in Hartland at the next exit off I-91, said he too is welcoming the opportunity to advertise. He’s renting one of a doen large panels available to businesses to display his menu, product list and Facebook address.

But, he said, his breath is bated for a different reason: The closing of the rest area sent an increase in of foot traffic to his store over the past 18 months, as motorists looked for bathrooms or a place to grab a snack. Customers flocked so heavily during the first weekend after the rest area closed, his well ran dry and his septic system was overwhelmed, so he invested in portable toilets.

“We’re kind of antsy to see what kind of effect it’s going to have,” he said. “Is it going to stop a lot of people coming this way, or is it going to be business as usual, or because of the poster we have out there, is it going to attract a lot of people who wouldn’t have normally stopped there?”

A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony is in the works for later next month.