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Shire town's warning features roof, bridge and building bonds

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Posted on January 30, 2014 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday approved a 2014 town meeting warning that will ask voters to make substantial investments in some of their community’s key buildings and bridges.

The marquee items on the 10-article warning relate to plans to build a new Middlebury municipal building and recreation center.

Article 6 asks voters to support a $6.5-million plan to build a new, 9,400-square-foot town office building at 77 Main St. and a new 11,500-square-foot recreation center on land off Creek Road. The new structures would replace the current municipal building and gym at 94 Main St.

The plan calls for Middlebury College to acquire the 94 Main St. property, and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. on which to relocate its Osborne House from 77 Main St. In exchange, the college would assume $4.5 million in debt service on the two new town buildings, leaving Middlebury $2 million for local taxpayers to subsidize. The college would also pay the town $1 million to raze 94 Main St. and to relocate the Osborne House.

It’s a proposal that has drawn criticism from some residents who believe the town should rebuild or renovate the municipal building and gym at 94 Main St. Two of those residents — Michael and Judy Olinick — successfully petitioned to have Article 9 placed on the warning. That advisory article asks voters if they’d like to direct the selectboard to take that course of rebuilding or renovating on-site. The Olinicks are hoping that article 6 is defeated and that article 9 gets overwhelming support.

Articles 7 and 8 ask voters to authorize bond issues of up to $200,000 and $500,000, respectively, to install a new roof at the Ilsley Library and round out financing for a proposed tunnel that will replace the Merchants Row and Main Street railroad overpasses.

The Ilsley Library roof is deteriorating and its attic requires insulation, according to town officials.

Meanwhile, the tunnel project has been estimated at $17 million, a price tag that the Middlebury selectboard had hoped would be entirely covered by federal and state funds. It turns out that some components of the project can’t qualify for full federal/state coverage, leaving the town potentially with a $500,000 liability. But local officials are optimistic that the $500,000 sum will be whittled down through successful application for “alternative sources of funding.”

Articles 6 through 9, along with a slate of municipal and school elections, will be decided by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day — Tuesday, March 4.

Articles 1 through 5 will be decided at the annual meeting, slated for Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m., at the town gym. The main decision item at that gathering will include a proposed 2014-2015 municipal spending plan of $9,153,360, representing a 2.2-percent increase compared to this year. If all of the money items on this year’s warning are approved, it would have the effect of adding 3.8 cents to Middlebury’s municipal tax rate.

TOWN OFFICE DISCUSSION

A shorthanded Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday discussed the warning and several other issues that drew feedback from around a dozen audience members. As has been the case for the past eight months, the proposed town offices/recreation center dominated discussion.

Selectwoman Susan Shashok asked for a reconciliation of the disparate estimates for rebuilding or renovating the town offices and gym on-site. She specifically referred to a Vermont Integrated Architecture (VIA) report showing project costs from roughly $5 million to $10 million, while Bread Loaf Corp. has estimated it would cost around $6.4 million to build new town offices and renovate the municipal gym at 94 Main St. The Bread Loaf number includes demolition of the existing municipal building and he cost of rented office space during construction. Board members were uncertain about which of VIA’s estimates provided for a “net-zero” energy building.

“Before town meeting, we need to get together and agree on the numbers,” Shashok said. “A $10 million project can’t be compared to the project we are seeing now.”

Selectboard Chairman Dan George said the board would reach out to VIA, Bread Loaf and project critics to discuss and reconcile the numbers.

Resident Victoria DeWind reiterated her concerns about a proposed agreement with the UD-3 school board that lays out ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the new recreation center. UD-3 owns the land and is proposing to lease it to the town for construction of the new center. The district will ask voters in its seven member-towns to approve the lease along with a $400,000 addition onto the structure that would house four team rooms, storage space, restrooms and showers. Those team rooms would be used by student-athletes who use the nearby playing fields.

The draft term sheet calls for, among other things, the town to be responsible for building the new center, maintaining the property and associated parking lot, removing the former Middlebury Legion building that sits at the site, signing a “shared use” agreement with UD-3 for use of the space, and assuming insurance responsibilities for the property.

“I don’t see how this is a good and fair agreement for the town,” DeWind said, adding UD-3 should be expected to contribute more toward the arrangement. She also expressed concern that students might eventually dominate use of the facility at the expense of other Middlebury residents.

Board members said they would push UD-3 for more concessions before a final agreement is signed. For example, they said they will insist on a 99-year land lease with UD-3, as opposed to the district’s suggestion of 25-year (renewable) terms.

“I’m confident we will end up with something that benefits the town and the school,” Selectman Nick Artim said.

“This is a first draft.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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