MIDDLEBURY — An ad hoc committee charged with planning a new Middlebury municipal building and recreation center will explore the possibility of siting the rec. center on school-owned property off Creek Road, instead of on the town recreation fields off Mary Hogan Drive.
Officials have, until now, focused exclusively on siting the 11,400-square-foot recreation center on land near Mary Hogan Elementary School and the Memorial Sports Center. The ID-4 school board controls the recreation park property and has raised concerns about how the new structure might exacerbate an already challenging parking and traffic circulation situation at the Mary Hogan School during student drop-off and pick-up times.
Middlebury selectboard members have stated their belief that there is adequate parking at the Mary Hogan School, sports center and county courthouse to accommodate users of the proposed recreation center in the short-term. The board has also suggested that on-site parking for the new recreation center — as well as a makeover for the Mary Hogan School’s parking and traffic circulation system — could be planned and implemented at a later date due to current budget limits. ID-4 board members have adamantly opposed that notion, stating that parking and traffic issues should be addressed as part of the recreation center construction project.
Faced with a possible impasse with the ID-4 board, the selectboard has been contemplating other sites on which the recreation center could be built. The Town Office & Recreation Facilities Steering Committee on Tuesday learned that the UD-3 school board would be willing to talk about the prospect of locating the recreation center on a parcel off Creek Road.
It was in 2000 that the UD-3 officials signed an agreement to acquire the roughly 2-acre Creek Road parcel from Middlebury American Legion Post 27 for $275,000, according to former Post 27 Commander Joe DeGray. The property includes the Legion’s former 5,000-square-foot former headquarters, as well as a Little League field and parking lot. It is surrounded by Middlebury College-owned playing fields that are also used by local public schools.
“The plan at the time was to develop a teen center at that location,” said UD-3 Facilities Manager Bruce MacIntire.
But teen center boosters failed to secure the considerable grant money and donations needed to renovate the former Legion building. The structure has thus remained vacant and has deteriorated further during the past 13 years, to a point where MacIntire does not believe it could realistically be renovated.
“We see that structure as a liability,” MacIntire said, noting the school district does not even use it for storage.
The UD-3 facilities committee discussed the Creek Road site on Tuesday morning and had “no resistance” to the notion of seeing it discussed as a spot for a town recreation center, according to MacIntire. He said such a project could help UD-3 rid itself of the deteriorating former Legion hall while replacing it with a spot for student athletes to change and have access to showers and restrooms. Some students currently change in vehicles in the parking lot.
“There are definitely some logistical advantages to locating (a recreation center) there,” MacIntire said.
An early plan presented to the steering committee last month showed a rec center that would include a 7,000-square-foot multi-purpose gym surrounded by a lobby, storage room, restrooms, quiet studio, multi-purpose room (which would double as a senior center), and Middlebury Parks and Recreation department offices.
UD-3 board Vice Chairman Peter Conlon and Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George recently discussed the concept informally. Selectman Nick Artim — also a member of the steering committee — asked MacIntire about the idea, then brought it to the steering committee (of which he is a member).
Fellow steering committee members agreed that the Creek Road parcel deserved to be explored further. Chris Huston, a Bread Loaf architect who is assisting the steering committee in planning the project, said he can transpose the current recreation center plan onto the Creek Road site to see how it might fit. The UD-3 board is expected to discuss the matter during one of its upcoming meetings. That board next meets on Tuesday, Nov. 19, time and place to be set.
Steering committee members know they will have to move fairly quickly to research the Creek Road site. Plans call for a March 5, 2014, vote on the recreation center and new town offices, which would be located at 77 Main St. The two buildings would be built with a $6.5 million budget, $4.5 million of which would come from Middlebury College in exchange for the current municipal building/gym site at the corner of South Main and College streets. The college would provide the town with an additional $1 million to clear the current site (which would be turned into a park) and to move the college’s Osborne House from 77 Main St. to a town-owned site off Cross Street.
Terri Arnold, Middlebury’s Parks and Recreation director, said she is open to discussing the Creek Road site.
“I would like to explore that,” she told fellow steering committee members on Tuesday. “It puts us closer to the high school. There is more room for expansion.”
“There are a lot of advantages to that site,” agreed fellow committee member Natalie Peters.
David Donahue, another member of the committee, also sees merit in the Creek Road location. A recreation center at that spot would give athletes more reliable shelter during a storm than the current option of the softball dugouts, according to Donahue.
Ruth Hardy, a steering committee member and chairwoman of the ID-4 board, cautioned that the Creek Road spot should be discussed in a public, comprehensive way. She noted some citizens have voiced concerns that the town office-recreation center planning process has not been transparent and inclusive enough.
“I would encourage you to take a different path than the one you have taken with the original proposal,” she said.
Committee member Nancy Malcolm acknowledged those concerns, as well as the need to get residents as informed as possible on the project prior to next March.
“It has to be done thoroughly and openly, but I hope it can also be done quickly,” Malcolm said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.