State looking for new Bennington public defender offices

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BENNINGTON — The Office of the Public Defender is leaving its longtime Gage Street location for temporary quarters in the Main Street building that houses Community College of Vermont and state Department of Health offices.

The move is expected to be completed next week, officials said. The space at 324 Main St. will be utilized by the public defender attorneys and staff until a permanent location in the downtown can be secured.

To that end, the state Division of Planning, Policy and Use has posted a legal ad seeking proposals for the lease of approximately 2,500 feet of space, with a response deadline of Aug. 31.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said this week that the office has been looking for new quarters because of a need for additional space, but discovery of a mold problem in the current building — confirmed through testing about a month ago — led to the decision to find new offices immediately.

The temporary space is being created within the CCV section of the Main Street building. The current offices are located in a woodframe building at the intersection of Gage and Division streets.

Valerio said the staff attorneys already are out of the Gage Street building and working remotely at home or elsewhere, pending a move by Aug. 24 into the temporary space. He said phone numbers and other contact information for the office will remain the same during and after the move.

"We have been looking [for new space] for some time," he said, "but with the mold, we had to get out."

The office has had an increasing case load in recent years, he said, which led to a desire to secure larger quarters.

Christopher Cole, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, said the move next week represents "a temporary solution," pending a lease agreement for another downtown location. That area is a priority, he said, because it provides easier access for many of the defender's office clients.

Allen Palmer, a property management specialist with the state Division of Planning, Policy and Use, is the contact person for anyone interested in discussing a lease with the state. He said the process differs from a formal bidding process in that the lease details are negotiated after the state has reviewed proposed sites for suitability.

Handicap access to the offices is required, he said, and the state is looking for space for up to eight staff members and on-site parking for at least eight to 10 vehicles.

All sites will be considered, according to the legal ad, but preference will be given to sites in the downtown.

Palmer said officials have talked to some property owners with possible sites, but no decisions will be made until after all proposals are received.

He can be reached at 802-828-1424 or allen.palmer@vermont.gov

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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