The Shumlin Real Estate Agency: No Rent Is Too Damn High Enough

In a move that’s sure to become a model for future Vermont state budget cost estimators, the State of Vermont has recently moved the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to the National Life building in Montpelier, due to the flooding of the agency’s former space in Waterbury.  As originally pitched, this move was estimated to cost $2MM, but now that the actual bill has come due, it’s $8.65 millionmore than four times the original estimate.  (At least we can be glad it’s not a cost-plus contract.)

Of course, now that the price tag has gotten some notice, there’s some scrambling going on at the higher levels of the administration.  They’re

You've got this, right?

You’ve got this, right?

trying to bat aside any questions about price (from Vermont Today):

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, whose agency includes the Department of Buildings and General Services, which managed the project, said Monday that he and his aides never told the committee the National Life project would cost $2 million.

But there had to be an estimate of some kind, right?  And it looks like there was, because:

Last year, the Legislature included $1 million for the project and separate allocations for replacing other office space in Waterbury lost by Tropical Storm Irene and for replacing the Vermont State Hospital. The allocation was included in the state’s capital construction budget, which uses money raised through bonding to pay for building projects. 

Whew.  So there was some kind of plan to pay for the new office space, we just won’t know exactly what that was – but we’ll be told we have to pay for it when the costs exceed the $1MM.  Which they already have.  By 8X.

As kind of a bonus, because the state owned the Waterbury complex and only paid upkeep on it, the state now leases office space from National Life (after spending almost $6MM on renovations), to the tune of $3.7MM per year, on a 10-year lease.   Ahem.   $37 million, just to rent the space they also helped fund the improvements on.  One of the improvements?  $3.675 million on modular furniture.  I would think that’s the furniture budget for the entire State of Vermont, not one lone agency.  Did we shop at Ikea?

Given that Vermont commercial office space leases (in Burlington) in the mid-teens per square foot, for $3.7MM per year you could lease

Let me just dump this rent money over here, then.

Let me just dump this rent money over here, then.

246,667 feet of space at $15/sqft.  That’s like a 10-story office building, in terms of a footprint, which is, I’m just guessing here, at least 9 Vermont Agencies of Natural Resources equivalents in extra space that we wouldn’t need to pay for.

In other words, it seems like Vermont is overpaying for space in a market that has lots of opportunity for savings, because there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of commercial space for lease in VT.  Instead, our largely untroubled “leadership” chose one of the best-known and premiere office spaces in the state, helped pay for its improvements, and then agreed to a 10-year lease at what seems like multiples of the per-unit pricing it could be paying for commercial office space, anywhere.

When it comes to spending someone else’s money, there’s no tab too large for the Shumlin administration to coyly slide over to the next guy at the table – before excusing himself to hit the bathroom on the way out.

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