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Windsor prison revamp moves forward, but funding still in peril amid virus cash crunch

  • Steve Rose searches out roadside litter for the rescheduled Green Up Day on Marton Road near the former Windsor, Vt., prison Saturday, May 30, 2020. The Vermont House of Representatives, last week, approved funding for repurposing the prison buildings for use by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Rose said he already gathered trash along the road on the traditional Green Up Day, “but the decorating committee doesn’t mind doing it over again.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Bob Heitzman, of Hartford, stops to listen to a bird song while walking at the Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area on the grounds of the former prison in Windsor, Vt., Saturday, May 30, 2020. Heitzman identified more than 32 species on his visit, while also keeping an eye out for butterflies. The Vermont House of Representatives has approved funding for repurposing the former Windsor prison for use by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation last week. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 8:44:45 PM
Modified: 5/30/2020 8:44:43 PM

WINDSOR — A move to repurpose the former Windsor prison property for state offices took a step forward last week when the Vermont House of Representatives approved funding for renovations.

The adjustment to the state’s capital budget bill, HB 955, which still needs to be taken up by the Senate, includes $700,000 for renovations to part of the former Southeast State Correctional Facility, which closed in 2017.

The renovations would include restroom improvements; energy-efficient lighting upgrades; new flooring, ceiling tiles and doors; additional baseboard heat; and electrical and data upgrades, according to a fact sheet issued by the Scott administration earlier this year.

The modifications would allow 17 full-time workers for Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to relocate to the former prison property from the state office building on Mineral Street in Springfield, Vt., said Louis Porter, the commissioner of Fish and Wildlife. The move also would give the department space for equipment storage, he said.

“It would be nice,” he said.

The benefits of the project include co-locating the two departments’ Springfield district office space with a wildlife management area. More than 800 acres surrounding the former prison buildings are owned by the state and managed for wildlife habitat and educational purposes, he said.

In addition, the move would allow the department to keep its equipment on the same site as its offices. The department currently has its equipment stored at Hartness State Airport in Springfield, but Porter said he wasn’t certain how long that arrangement would continue. The move also would offer heated workspace for working on boats and trucks in the winter, he said.

But, despite the benefits and the community’s wishes to see the former prison property put to some new use, Porter said the pandemic and its impact on the state’s finances means that the future of the project is uncertain.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing the most responsible thing moving forward,” both in terms of managing the state budget and in terms of protecting workers’ safety, said Porter, who was working from his home office in Calais, Vt., on Friday.

Fish and Game employees are currently working from home for the most part, going in to their offices only when they need to pick up something or use internet with higher bandwidth than they have at home, Porter said.

The pandemic has “thrown things for a bit of a loop,” he said. “We don’t know yet what the office space for that district will look like in the end.”

The Agency of Natural Resources, which oversees both Fish and Game and Forests, Parks and Recreation, is working with legislators to reevaluate the project and “make sure it makes sense to spend that money there,” he said.

The state’s Department of Building and General Services is studying what it will cost to operate the newly renovated space and how that compares with what it costs to maintain the buildings in their current state, said Erik Filkorn, principal assistant for BGS. The department has previously said it costs $215,000 a year to maintain the property, which includes 27 structures spread over more than 100 acres.

So far, they haven’t found anything to show that it’s not a good idea to move forward with the project, he said.

With the budget bill headed to the Senate, Windsor County Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Saturday he hadn’t yet reviewed the bill and didn’t know whether or not the $700,000 for the Windsor project would end up in the final version.

He did say the task before legislators to budget for the future in the midst of the pandemic is a challenging one.

In his roughly 30 years in the state Senate, McCormack said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Everything has been thrown up in the air.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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