Click photo to enlarge
Masons build a wall at the Bennington Welcome Center on Thursday. Construction delays caused by a fire last month have forced the state to postpone the building’s opening until later this summer. (Peter Crabtree)
Masons build a wall at the Bennington Welcome Center on Thursday. Construction delays caused by a fire last month have forced the state to postpone the
Masons build a wall at the Bennington Welcome Center on Thursday. Construction delays caused by a fire last month have forced the state to postpone the building’s opening until later this summer. (Peter Crabtree)
Friday April 19, 2013

Editor's note: This story contains a correction. Employees of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce will not be moving to the new welcome center when it opens. They will continue to work from the chamber's current office at 100 Veterans Memorial Drive, Bennington.

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A fire that occurred last month will delay the opening of the state-owned welcome center now under construction by up to two months, according to state officials.

Vermont Buildings and General Services Commissioner Michael Obuchowski said the March 22 fire will likely push the opening of the welcome center into late summer. It had been slated to open in June or July.

"The best information I have is it there could be a delay as much as two months. We were thinking that we would open in June. I think the latter part of August or early September is more likely," Obuchowski said.

Firefighters quickly responded to the construction site, which is situated within the Route 279 system interchange. But the fire, caused by a propane heater used by construction workers, caused enough damage to the outside of the building to bring work to a halt.

"I think there was a period of time where they stopped to assess with the insurance company, and so forth," Obuchowski said. "I think that they had to rip out some paneling and insulation."

The contractor, New Hampshire-based Ingram Construction Corp., is still trying to determine the extent of the damage caused by the fire.

"They are still sifting through all that because they're not exactly sure how far the damage went. That's part of the problem," BGS Project Manager Ray Rossi said.

The contractor must demolish part of the work already completed because of fire damage. However, they are being careful so as not to tear down any more than necessary, according to Rossi.

"They've had to segregate a part of the building so when they start demolition and really start getting into the charcoaled stuff, it doesn't get into the interior and make it worse," he said. "They are trying to protect as much of the interior as they can."

BGS officials are planning to meet again today to receive updates on the project, and will continue to meet every two weeks until it is completed, Rossi said.

Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joann Erenhouse said she is hopeful there will be no further delays.

"There's nothing I can do about it, basically. They originally had said early July, and I said, 'Well, I'd be happy with early September. If they can accomplish that, I'll be fine,'" she said.

It is important that the facility be up and running by the fall foliage season, Erenhouse said. She noted that the chamber is taking on the additional responsibility of running the complex for the state "We're trying to hire people," she said. "But, I think that time frame still works."

The Chamber is counting on the welcome center to help direct tourists to businesses and attractions in Bennington. The opening last summer of the second leg of Route 279 now allows motorists to bypass Bennington.

Obuchowski said the welcome center should be open before the foliage season, but things can change during a construction project.

"The one thing that I've learned in this job in the last two years is that nothing is black and white. When you're talking about time you have to be very careful with absolutes, even though you try like Hell to meet the absolutes," he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami