BANGOR, Maine — The state Department of Health and Human Services wants to expand or replace its Griffin Road office with a larger, leased building in the Bangor area that will house an estimated 268 caseworkers and support staff serving northern Maine.
The City Council wants to do everything it can to keep DHHS in the city — especially since there’s no guarantee that it will remain here.
Councilors voted unanimously on Wednesday to give city staff permission to negotiate with developers who seek city-owned parcels as potential replacements for 396 Griffin Road.
Keeping DHHS in Bangor is good for the area, said Tanya Emery, director of Bangor’s Department of Community and Economic Development.
“Bangor is such an important service center for northern Maine that continuing to house all these services under one roof in Bangor certainly makes sense,” Emery said Thursday.
The council would welcome the expansion or replacement of the Griffin Road DHHS facility, Chairman Joe Baldacci said.
“Three or four different developers might come forward and want to build in three or four locations,” Baldacci said. “Generally it is good any time there is new construction happening, and I am sure there is a commercial reuse of the building they are considering leaving.”
The selection process for the building state officials are using as an example of what they seek, the $10 million, two story South Portland DHHS-Department of Labor facility, was controversial. The owner of two Bayside buildings rejected in 2013, Tom Toye, called the bidding process “a big waste of time.”
Toye’s appeal of the state decision, which scored the winning proposal 18 points higher than Toye’s, called it “arbitrary and capricious.”
The building opened in 2015. Maine Bureau of General Services spokesman David Heidrich on Thursday called it “a phenomenal facility.”
The owner of 396 Griffin Road, whose name Heidrich didn’t have, attended a mandatory pre-bid conference at the South Portland building on Feb. 7. He and and other developers in the Bangor area are welcome to bid on the new project, which state officials hope to finish in 2018, Heidrich said.
The lease on the Griffin Road office expires in August 2018. The office, which DHHS has leased for at least 15 years, “is aging, a little dated, and we would be looking to provide more energy efficiency,” Heidrich said.
Improved air quality and access for disabled residents are other project goals, for the building. It’s expected to house the Office of Child and Family Services, Administrative Hearings and Fraud units and Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, among other departments, according to an office space plan at the Bureau of General Services website.
“It can be new construction, it can be renovated space, or it can be a combination of the two,” Heidrich said. “We have sought in all of our space something that is energy efficient, modern and suits the needs of the tenants of the facility and people who visit.”
The 13-page DHHS request for proposal that Emery released to the Bangor Daily News specifies that the building be 40,000 square feet or greater with an option for expansion. The existing DHHS office on Griffin Road is about 35,000 square feet and houses about 200 employees, Emery said.
“It is a large project and a this-sized project doesn’t come around terribly frequently in this market,” Emery said.
The council’s Business and Economic Development Committee met in executive session on Feb. 7 to discuss the bureau’s request for proposals.
Committee Chairman David Nealley said the proposal is “really more of a state-related issue so there’s not a tremendous amount of involvement for us.”
“We are just waiting to hear what they are going to do. We have little involvement in it,” Nealley said.
State officials held the pre-bid conference at the South Portland building to show developers what DHHS generally seeks.
Developers must submit their proposals to the bureau by March 28. Construction is due to start on June 1, according to the bureau’s request for proposals, but the latter date is subject to change.