Bennington welcome center’s opening delayed two months due to fire
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 16,2013
Patrick McArdle/Staff photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin and Jeff Ingram, president of Ingram Construction Corp., look at fire damage to the welcome center which is under construction in Bennington. A small fire on March 22 is expected to delay the opening of the welcome center from June to September.
BENNINGTON — A fire at the welcome center being built in Bennington will delay the opening by two months, causing it to open in September instead of June, officials from the construction company told Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday.
On March 22, there was a small fire at the building site in the area where men’s bathrooms are being built. Jeff Ingram, president of Ingram Construction Corp., of New Hampshire, said the fire was quickly extinguished by the Bennington Fire Department.
However, the fire forced a shutdown in construction.
Shumlin, who toured the entire building Monday including the fire damage, said he would lend his support to getting construction restarted.
“We want to get this opened up. This entire bypass project is great for downtown Bennington but we really need to remind tourists that downtown Bennington is a destination where they should shop, eat and enjoy and this welcome center is going to be critical in driving people downtown,” he said.
Shumlin said he was impressed with the welcome center and said he didn’t believe the minor fire should cause a long delay. He joked that the damage caused was no worse than you see “during a good barbecue in Putney.”
The scheduled opening for the welcome center was in June but Gordon Bristol, a consultant working with Ingram Construction and a former state representative for Brattleboro, said the fire “cost about a two-month delay.”
“We just don’t want it to be longer than two months,” he said.
Bristol said Ingram officials were determined to have the welcome center open in time for foliage season despite the delay caused by the fire.
The welcome center is planned to play an important role in the overall road project known locally as the “Bennington bypass.” The highway was designed to remove truck traffic from the downtown and other areas that appeal to tourists.
In the years leading up to the construction of the bypass, there have been times when large trucks became stuck while trying to pass through the intersection of routes 7 and 9 at the downtown intersection known as the Four Corners.
However, local business owners have expressed concern that driver will use the Bennington bypass to “bypass Bennington.” The welcome center, built using a federal earmark secured by retired Sen. James Jeffords, is expected to promote Vermont in general but Bennington’s downtown in particular.
The welcome center was already the source of some controversy in 2011 when residents learned that it would open a year later than the northern leg of the bypass. That road opened in August.
Now the fire at the site, which caused no injuries and was started by a temporary heater used by a mason working on the center, is causing a new delay. Bristol said the construction company understood the need for the state’s order.
“It was a legitimate stop. You have to stop when there’s a fire. We’re now just saying it’s time to start back up again and I think everybody’s working toward that. … We want to resolve it soon, get going again and get back on schedule,” he said.
Ingram, who said the fire would not increase the cost of the project, said there was a plan in place to start work at the site again.
Eric Frowein, project superintendent, said the delay had been hard for the workers at the site.
“The spirits are down and morale is down. The project, it’s slowed down so a lot of the subs aren’t able to be on site and working,” he said.
Workers are looking forward to getting started again and “getting it complete,” he added.
Shumlin was in Bennington on Monday making multiple stops, including at the Bennington Free Library and Bennington College.