Saturday, April 21, 2012

Aetna's Middletown Employees Will Move To Hartford In Next 6 Months

Three years of renovations at Aetna Inc.'s Hartford headquarters have all been one big lead-in to this weekend, when the health insurer will begin moving 3,600 Middletown employees to its Asylum Hill campus.

But the 0 million renovation project is still in full swing, including the installation of solar panels on the roof of the former Tower Building, at Farmington Avenue and Flower Street, and on the south side of the building, which faces I-84.

A web of blue scaffolding now covers that side of the building, and workers are installing the necessary brackets on the building's smooth granite exterior. Five rows of solar panels are expected to appear in mid-October.

"The unique architecture of the building allowed for that," said Michael L. Marshall, who oversees Aetna's renovation and construction projects. "We would never have been able to do that on the other building."

The former Tower Building now renamed the "Atrium Building" because each of its floors opens onto a large interior atrium was built in the 1970s in the Modernist style, in sharp contrast to the Colonial Revival architecture of the main building.

The solar panels will be angled upward to catch the optimal amount of sunlight and won't be visually distracting to the tens of thousands of motorists passing by daily on the highway, Marshall said.

The solar panels are expected to generate 6 percent to 8 percent of the Atrium Building's daily electrical supply. At a cost of million, the insurer estimates that it will take 15 years to recoup the cost. The state is providing a rebate of about 0,000.

Fred Laberge, an Aetna spokesman, said the solar panels and other "green" innovations in the 1.7 million-square-foot campus are intended to project an image of Aetna's corporate culture.

"It's not just the energy savings, but it's the right thing to do in terms of the green movement," Laberge said.

Since 2006, renovations have included the construction of two parking garages one replacing an outdated one that doubled the number of spaces to accommodate workers from Middletown, who will move in over the next six months.

The majority of renovations have focused on the Atrium Building, vacated by ING in 2007. ING had occupied the building since 2000, when it acquired Aetna's financial services business. ING later decided to build a Connecticut headquarters in Windsor rather than renew its lease.

Aetna subsequently decided to give the space a much-needed renovation and consolidate operations from Middletown. Renovations are expected to be completed in six months.

The campus will share a new cafeteria twice the size of the old one, as well as larger dining facilities. A new 28,000-square-foot "education center" will be used for training, a function once done in Middletown.

Most of the 3,600 employees moving from Middletown work in information technology. Of that number, 2,600 will be located in the Atrium Building; the remaining 1,000 will be in the main building, Marshall said.

Laberge said the workers who will now commute to Hartford will work schedules with staggered arrival and departure times to minimize traffic snarls on Asylum Hill. Workers are being given monthly incentive payments to car pool or use public transportation.

Aetna built its 1,000,000-square-foot campus in Middletown but later sold it to GE Capital and leased the space back. It still owns the land.

Laberge said that Aetna is in negotiations with GE over the future of the site.

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