Currently, the MOOver’s operations are split between its offices in West Dover and its operational facility in Wilmington, limiting speedy communication between drivers and administrative personnel. Construction of the new facility has been years in the making and will mark a milestone for the DVTA, its employees, and its passengers. “It will benefit the MOOver because we’ll have everyone under one roof for the first time in 17 years,” says Schoonmaker. In addition, it “will secure the future of public transit for the valley. We’ll be able to do so many more things so much more efficiently.”
The new facility will be constructed on a 9.5 acre site at 45 Mill Street. The site was purchased in 2004 by the DVTA and had previously been the site of a factory used to make clothespins in the early 1900s, fruit and ammunition boxes before and during World War II, motorcycles in the 1960s, and weathered barnboard siding in the 1970s and 1980s. Following the sale of the barnboard business in 1986 and the auctioning of the property in 1988, the site was briefly used for a hardware store until 1995. It remained mostly unused until the DVTA began leasing portions of it in 2000. In 2011, most of the original structure was demolished after it was thoroughly purged of remaining hazardous chemicals.
In its 17-year history, the DVTA has faced a series of hurdles in its efforts to construct a large, centralized facility. Susan Haughwout, DVTA president and Wilmington Town Clerk, says that building a multi-use facility has been a top priority since the DVTA’s inception. The DVTA was founded in 1996 as a result of an analysis by the Vision 2000 committee, a collection of valley business owners who analyzed the needs of the area for local business and development. Transportation ranked at the top of the list, and out of that need grew the DVTA. “Usually these kinds of transit systems are started from the government down, but this was grassroots up,” says Haughwout, who was contacted early on to serve on a newly formed transportation committee. “I thought, ‘We don’t have any transportation in the valley, so this should be easy.’ It was literally eight months until we had buses.”
What started as a modest shuttle service up and down Route 100 has since expanded into a 26-bus, 16-route service providing transportation not only throughout the valley but to Brattleboro and Bennington as well. The DVTA employs 34 people, and its vehicles travel approximately 375,000 miles per year. Out of the 10 public transit districts in Vermont, only Burlington’s and Rutland’s boast larger services. The DVTA secures funding for its approximately $1.8 million budget from the federal government via the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans); from state sources; and from local sources such as Mount Snow, condominium owners, local schools, Marlboro College, and advertisements.
A grassroots spirit has characterized the DVTA’s efforts to secure a site for its new facility, most notably in the company’s search for funding. The new facility will cost a total of $4.4 million, which has been cobbled together from a variety of federal grants and loans as well as local loans and fundraising efforts. Federal funds pay for 80% of construction costs, with the DVTA required to secure the other 20%. A portion of the funds, $584,000, will come from a federal earmark secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2011, which provided for the demolition of most of the factory, as well as the hiring of an architectural project manager. Another $3.08 million comes from a 2012 State of Good Repair grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which will provide for the construction of the facility. Another $915,000 comes from a Key Bank construction loan, $100,000 from the Windham Regional Commission, and $2,250 from the Wilmington Fund, with the remaining balance to be paid by DVTA’s private funds and additional funding from the FTA.
“After many years of outstanding service in Southern Vermont, I am delighted that Deerfield Valley is moving forward with this key transportation and economic development project to consolidate its operations in Wilmington,” said Sen. Leahy in a statement.
“We’re very grateful to the state for supporting our application and grateful to Senator Leahy,” says Haughwout.
A portion of the funding will be used to address the site’s status as a brownfields remediation site, identified as such by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation due to higher-than-acceptable levels of arsenic in the site’s soil. Federal guidelines stipulate that the new facility must “cap” all contaminated soil either through concrete, parking lots, or a layer of fabric overlaid with 6 inches of new soil. The new facility will address all of these requirements.
The new facility has been scheduled to move forward several times over the past decade, with hangups coming primarily from derailed funding efforts or changes in EPA guidelines regarding soil quality. In 2010, following that year’s midterm elections, a nearly $3 million earmark designated for the construction of the facility was removed from the federal budget; all that remained from that battle was the $584,000 already secured by Leahy. The DVTA worked fast to recover the loss and has now managed to do so.
The new facility, according to the press release, will include a dry bay and a bus wash designed to recycle 80% of its water, a 12,000-gallon diesel fuel tank, two new vehicle lifts, and new garage equipment. The new Wilmington Village Walk will pass through the property, and the silo and biodiesel shop from the older structure will remain in place.
“This is the culmination of dogged determination to have a facility and home for the MOOver,” says Haughwout, adding that it will be a “critical component to the economic well-being of the valley and serving residents and visitors.”
Haughwout and Schoonmaker both emphasize that the new facility will open the door to new opportunities for the MOOver and the DVTA. “We don’t have a lot of future projects on the radar screen just this second,” says Haughwout, mentioning the Bennington route as an area worthy of review. “After this project’s over, it’ll be time for some new members.”
Ground is scheduled to break on September 30, with the expectation of completing construction by May 2014.