SOUTH PORTLAND — A new office complex for the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor officially opened to clients Monday near the Portland International Jetport.
The $10 million, 75,000-square-foot, two-story facility on Jetport Boulevard, also houses the Portland Career Center and the Office of Fraud Investigations. The Bureau of Veterans Services is slated to open in the near future, and in the upcoming months, an office of the Department of Education will join them.
Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew agreed at a Jan. 5 ribbon-cutting ceremony that the consolidation of these departments under one roof is expected to help assimilate services that have, historically, been housed at separate locations.
When the doors opened at 8 a.m. Monday morning, a line of waiting clients filed in to the DHHS. One client said she would drive to the old office on Marginal Way in Portland from her home in New Gloucester.
It wasn’t that the old location was particularly difficult to get to, but depending on traffic, the trip was likely to take a bit longer. At the new jetport location, she said she doesn’t have to maneuver through the city, the building is close to the turnpike, and there’s plenty of parking.
Other Cumberland County residents, including Bruce Danie, of Gorham, previously said the new location and free, plentiful parking will be a relief compared with the previous DOL office on Lancaster Street.
“I don’t always like coming to downtown Portland,” Danie said in early January at a DOL-sponsored job fair, where he had to park in a metered spot.
Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Labor Department, said the increased accessibility was a major factor in the choice of the Jetport area.
While the location of the new office has been criticized by some Portland residents as being less accessible, because it is no longer reachable on foot, many other Cumberland County residents are expected to benefit from the change of scene.
“Whenever you relocate, someone is always going to be closer and someone is always going to be farther away,” Rabinowitz said Monday morning.
She said the services are not “Portland-centric,” but also serve those throughout York and Cumberland Counties, “even all the way up to the lakes in Bridgton.”
The departments are “a little more centrally located, easy to find, and have a lot of parking,” Rabinowitz said.
For those coming from Portland who do not have a vehicle, the No. 5 METRO bus line was permanently altered Jan. 11 to reduce the the time it takes to travel to the new office. The trip is now estimated to take about 20 minutes.
Last year the Career Center serviced about 55,000 clients. With the new location, “we anticipate that we will have a similar number, if not higher,” Rabinowitz said.
The new building boasts a handful of conference rooms, about a dozen interview rooms, and is generally larger than the combined previous offices, making public offerings like job fairs more accessible.
Consolidation of state departments will likely be something sought after in Maine in years to come, Rabinowitz said. For the DOL, “the goal is to have as many of our locations co-located as possible.”
The next significant consolidation of departments comparable with the Jetport Boulevard facility will likely be in Bangor, Rabinowitz said. In order for that to be successful, it would depend on “the timing of our leases and if we could identify a property with cost savings.”