Charter Oak shows off one big 'billboard'

CEO Brian Orenstein shows the view from the third-floor board room at Charter Oak Federal Credit Union's new headquarters on Route 85 in Waterford Friday.
CEO Brian Orenstein shows the view from the third-floor board room at Charter Oak Federal Credit Union's new headquarters on Route 85 in Waterford Friday.

Waterford - Charter Oak Federal Credit Union's new $18 million headquarters building at Route 85 and Industrial Drive is nearing completion, and a grand opening has been scheduled June 16 - a few months later than initially planned, but "it's going to be here 50 years, so what's six months?" the company's top official said Friday.

Brian Orenstein, chief executive of the 75-year-old credit union, said during a hard-hat tour of the nearly 65,000-square-foot building that there was an issue with steel calculations and a holdup in some of the fabrication work, but the project has gone surprisingly well. Charter Oak broke ground on the site just off the Interstate 395 off-ramp in September 2012.

"We wanted it to be a significant building," Orenstein said. "We're only doing this once in our lifetime."

The brick and glass building, which also will house Charter Oak's 14th credit-union branch, features a curved roof line, 28-foot-high atrium, an expansive reception area and a 190-seat community room for use by nonprofits free of charge.

Charter Oak is consolidating four offices totaling about 45,000 square feet into the new building, including its current headquarters on Chicago Avenue in Groton. Other Charter Oak personnel will be moving from offices in Niantic, Waterford and Long Hill Road in Groton, but no branches are closing because of the consolidation.

The new office building - bringing together such groups as fraud and security, lending, marketing, information technology and recordkeeping all under one roof - should add operational efficiencies, said Tony Cronin, Charter Oak's assistant vice president for marketing.

Orenstein said that when Charter Oak's current headquarters building was constructed four decades ago, the credit union had $40 million in assets. It now has $800 million - 20 times that amount.

"We've been growing fast," Orenstein said. "We think this building is going to help us grow that much faster."

The new headquarters requires workers and customers alike to enter through the back, where an expansive parking lot has been molded into the terrain. As customers enter the branch office to the left, they are greeted by the company's core values - Strength, Commitment, Value and Integrity - etched into the glass on a bank of offices to the right.

Orenstein said the building has been completed using local labor for about 85 percent of the work. The credit union made a conscious decision to use both union and nonunion labor, at a 50-50 split, he added.

The new building will house about 110 employees, including 10 new hires to man the new branch.

Downstairs, employees have access to a large cafeteria stocked by Avanti Markets, locker rooms, a brightly colored exercise area and a training room. It's also where auditors and federal regulators can work when they come in for periodic visits.

The upstairs, featuring a skylight, houses executive offices and a high-ceilinged boardroom as well as the accounting, marketing and compliance departments.

"Most of our space is already filled," said Orenstein, though about 2,000 square feet in the basement is unspoken for and could be used for future expansion.

The whole building is Wi-Fi compatible, said Jim Andruskiewicz, system support manager for Charter Oak who worked closely with Assistant Vice President Denise Graves to coordinate construction efforts. A full generator will allow the building to remain up and running for four to five days in case of an emergency, he added.

The building is not certified as green, but many of its components, such as insulation and LED lighting, were selected with energy efficiency in mind, Andruskiewicz said.

The building's architect was Point One Architects of Old Lyme, with engineering services from CLA Engineers Inc. of Norwich and general contracting by Enterprise Builders of Newington. Other contractors involved in the project included B.W. Dexter Mason Contractors in Danielson, Kobyluck Construction in Waterford, Maynard Electric in Lisbon, Cluff Carpet One Floor & Home in Waterford, P&D Mechanical in Colchester and H. Carr & Sons in Oakdale.

"This building is really a marketing statement for us," Orenstein said. "It's the biggest billboard we could ever have."


Ribbon-cutting: 10 a.m. June 16

Branch opening: 11 a.m. that same day

Where: Route 85 and Industrial Drive, Waterford



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