Charter Oak Federal Credit Union breaks ground on new $18 million headquarters in Waterford

Charter Oak Federal Credit Union CEO Brian A. Orenstein speaks to a gathering of local and state officials Thursday prior to a ceremonial groundbreaking for the credit union's new $18 million headquarters in  Waterford.
Charter Oak Federal Credit Union CEO Brian A. Orenstein speaks to a gathering of local and state officials Thursday prior to a ceremonial groundbreaking for the credit union's new $18 million headquarters in Waterford. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

Waterford — First Selectman Dan Steward drew a chuckle during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for Charter Oak Federal Credit Union’s new headquarters at the corner of Route 85 and Industrial Drive as he surveyed the 10-acre site where huge boulders loomed in the background.

“We do live in a rock-strewn land,” he said.

The line could have been taken literally, but in today’s craggy economic environment, some people no doubt conjured up images of the rocky financial territory through which they have navigated the past few years.

Steward called Charter Oak’s decision to build a new headquarters building in the midst of sluggish growth nationally and locally a “vote of confidence” for the region’s economy.

Charter Oak, currently based in Groton, is using local labor for the $18 million construction project, which is expected to be completed late next year. The nearly 65,000-square-foot headquarters building, which will include Charter Oak’s 13th branch office and a 200-seat community room, was designed by Point One Architects of Old Lyme, with engineering services from CLA Engineers Inc. of Norwich and general contracting by Enterprise Builders of Newington.

“Late next year, we will open the doors and change the banking landscape in southeastern Connecticut,” said Charter Oak’s chief executive, Brian Orenstein, to about 75 people, including state and local officials, who gathered at the construction site.

“It’s truly a home-grown company,” said Tony Sheridan, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

Sheridan praised Charter Oak’s decision to use local construction workers, who have been hit hard by a prolonged downturn in building starts statewide.

“You’ve always done the right thing,” he told Orenstein. “It’s why you’ve been successful.”

Charter Oak, with assets of $750 million and nearly 70,000 members, is the third-largest credit union in the state. It was founded in 1939 as the Groton Shipbuilders Federal Credit Union, associated initially with Electric Boat employees.

Charter Oak’s second-floor headquarters space on Chicago Avenue in Groton will be renovated and made available for lease after staff is moved to the Waterford site. Its branch on the first floor of the Chicago Avenue building will remain open, as will the credit union’s newly renovated branch on Long Hill Road in Groton.

“We are financially strong, we are growing and we are committed to southeastern Connecticut,” Orenstein said.

l.howard@theday.com

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