South Portland building ready for Portland state offices

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Mayor Linda Cohen welcomed a new state office building Monday, and Gov. Paul LePage praised the anticipated savings of $23 million over the next 30 years that the 151 Jetport Blvd. building represents.

The new 75,000-square-foot structure, which cost approximately $10 million, will consolidate the regional offices of the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education, now housed in several buildings in downtown Portland.

The appeal of consolidating agencies under one roof is to make the services more accessible for those who utilize them, LePage said. It will also cost less to lease in the long term than the space the agencies now occupy in Portland.

Yet the project has been criticized for reducing accessibility for Portland clients of the state agencies. ELC Construction, the low bidder for the project more than a year ago, was one of four bidding companies, two of which were in Portland and the other in South Portland.  

The state signed a 30-year lease with ELC owner Eric Cianchette, a financial supporter of LePage’s gubernatorial campaign, and construction by Landry-French Construction of Scarborough began in July.

When asked to respond Monday to criticism about the decision to move to South Portland, LePage said, “Get over it. This (building) is going to save the taxpayers $23 million … taking the bus won’t hurt anybody.”

To accommodate clients traveling to the new facility from Portland, METRO bus line No. 5 will be altered starting Jan. 11. It will reduce the time it takes to get to and from the new building from downtown Portland by cutting out a stop at the Portland Transportation Center. 

Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, touted the building’s “ultra-thermal envelope,” which should reduce energy use and costs; the building’s operating costs will be about $1 per square foot, compared with $5 per square foot at the existing Portland Career Center, Rabinowitz said.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Ken Cianchette, son of building owner Eric Cianchette. He and LePage lauded the fact that the project was completed using only Maine workers. 

“If people want to know what epitomizes Paul LePage, this building epitomizes every single thing I think about government,” LePage said. “We are going to bring efficiency to Maine.”

Approximately a quarter of the building will be devoted to Department of Labor services, and the remaining three-fourths will be utilized by the Department of Health and Human Resources, Cianchette said.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the consolidation will allow the departments to “more holistically” meet the needs of clients.

Labor Commissioner Jean Paquette applauded the philosophy-turned-reality as a result of the consolidation: partnering between departments “helps create that pipeline of skilled workers by bringing people back to the workforce … we will be a soft hand-off place.”

Cohen alluded to the advantage of having such a facility in South Portland. 

“Yesterday, we cut a ribbon for a state-of-the-art high school,” the mayor said. “Here, we are cutting a ribbon for a state-of-the-art office building.”

The building, whose interior is still mostly vacant, is scheduled to open to the public Jan. 26.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

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Gov. Paul LePage, right, speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new state office building Monday afternoon in South Portland. He is joined by South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen, left, Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, builder Kevin French of Landry-French Construction, and developer Ken Cianchette.

The new regional Maine Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services building will be open to the public Jan. 26 at 151 Jetport Blvd. in South Portland.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.