• New state hospital talks continue
    VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | October 30,2012
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    BERLIN — Discussion of a proposed labyrinth at the new Vermont state hospital in Berlin was revisited Monday.

    While the labyrinth, similar to a maze, is considered a “wish-list” item, one architect involved with the project downplayed any concerns, suggesting its price tag would be minor in the context of the overall cost of the project.

    The work group for the new state hospital met to continue discussing external design aspects of the facility.

    The labyrinth could be used for therapeutic purposes for patients. According to architect Anthony Garner, yoga practitioners frequently use labyrinths in their work with clients.

    The cost of the labyrinth could be a few thousand dollars to as much as $20,000, depending on its surface and on how intricate it is. It would have no walls and would be about 24 feet in diameter, architects said.

    Monday’s work group meeting was the latest step in a process that takes on some urgency. Architects hired by the state want to have bids ready for the new $22.5 million state hospital project within two months to meet Gov. Peter Shumlin’s aggressive timetable to have patients begin occupying the facility in January 2014.

    “We want to make sure we’re moving in the right direction, because as you know time is of the essence,” said architect Sara Wengert of the overall project. “We’ve made a commitment to have the site designed and ready to bid within two months.”

    Wengert said the work group should make all its decisions about the external aspects of the facility within the next month.

    Garner, her colleague at the firm Architecture +, said every individual decision about the new facility can potentially create a bottleneck for the entire project at this point.

    The new 25-bed hospital, which will be located on Fisher Road next to Central Vermont Medical Center, will be part of a statewide network of mental health facilities to replace the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, which suffered significant flooding damage last year as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.

    The exterior design for the new one-story structure in Berlin features an inner courtyard, created from building corridors wrapping around the area, and an outer courtyard, enclosed by a fence. Planners hope to clear part of a treeline beyond the fence to create a more open feel.

    The outer courtyard will include space for a basketball court, and officials hope to create a trail to be used by walkers, joggers and wheelchair users.

    Also as part of the design, the lowest portion of certain rooftops and walkway canopies will be 14 feet above the ground to prevent patients from escaping, Montpelier architect Jim Drummond said.

    Any design changes in the project are based on input from the various work group members.

    JP Hayden, a psychologist who works for the state, said the labyrinth was a wish-list item, but she could imagine patients using it on a routine basis. She conceded, however, that other activities could provide comparable therapeutic value.

    The work group already has agreed on some cost saving measures, cutting the proposed size of the building from 53,000 to 44,500 square feet earlier this summer. That reduction helped cut the estimated cost of the hospital from $28.5 million to $22.5 million, according to Vermont Buildings and General Services Department staffer David Burley.

    Among other items discussed Monday, Anne Donahue, of Northfield, said she has repeatedly heard concerns about potentially increased traffic along Fisher Road, where CVMC is located.

    Plans for the state hospital project envision using the Fisher Road entrance, but Donahue has heard concerns that the Berlin Development Review Board might want traffic from the new state hospital not to go directly onto Fisher Road but instead onto an access road that CVMC already uses. That access road has a stoplight where it meets Fisher Road.

    Berlin Development Review Board member Muriel Morse said the board hadn’t discussed the state hospital project because it hadn’t yet seen the state’s application paperwork.

    The application has been received by the town of Berlin and includes a traffic study. The study suggests additional traffic on Fisher Road would be minimal, said town Zoning Administrator Jeff Schulz.

    Previously, when the review board has required significant changes for property access to a highway, traffic studies have generally justified the changes, Schulz said.

    The Development Review Board is slated to discuss the state’s application at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at the town office.

    The state Financial Regulation Department will also hold a public hearing on the proposed state hospital at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 16 in Montpelier in the third-floor conference room of City Center, at 89 Main St.

    david.taube @timesargus.com
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