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New head of Middlebury recreation is a familiar face

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Posted on August 30, 2018 |
By John Flowers



Dustin8351.jpg
DUSTIN HUNT BEGAN his duties as Middlebury’s new parks and recreation superintendent earlier this month. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — Hard work and tenacity pays off.

Just ask Dustin Hunt.

Fourteen years ago, Hunt was carting soil and fishing debris out of the Middlebury municipal pool as a part-time laborer with the town’s Parks & Recreation Department.

On Monday he began his new job as the department’s top administrator.

“It really is a dream come true for me,” Hunt, 33, said of his new job.

Hunt began his relationship with the Middlebury Parks & Recreation back in 2004. He’d just graduated from Middlebury Union High School, and was looking for some summer work prior to heading off to Husson University on Bangor, Maine. So he took a part-time job maintaining the town’s parks, swimming pool and other outdoor assets.

Hunt, a lifelong Middlebury resident, enjoyed the work. And when he went off to Husson — where he would major in business administration with a concentration in sports management — he knew his return was inevitable.

“Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to come back to Middlebury to raise a family,” Hunt said.

And he was right.

After earning his degree in 2008, Hunt circled back to Middlebury, initially working a brief stint at Lightning Photo. It was an eight-month prelude to rejoining parks & recreation, which brought him back as a part-time laborer in May of 2009.

Why would an eager person with a college degree in a low-unemployment state settle for a part-time job? Easy. For Hunt, it was about getting his foot into the door of a department he knew her wanted to lead someday.

“I really want to thank my wife, Jade, who remained very patient for all those years when I was part-time here,” Hunt said. “She supported me, and saw the big goal was for me to end up in the position I am now in.”

Hunt’s stock at the department began to rise in early 2013, following Terri Arnold’s hiring as Middlebury’s Parks & Recreation director. One of her first moves was to create a full-time program coordinator position, and she picked Hunt to fill that job.

It was the beginning of a great professional partnership and friendship.

“Terri was an absolutely wonderful mentor to me,” Hunt said. “She always told me her main goal was to prep me for when she left.”

She closely involved Hunt in the running of the department. Arnold also encouraged Hunt to earn his state certification as a parks & recreational professional, which he did. He’s one of only 38 in Vermont to achieve that certification.

“(Arnold) made work fun,” Hunt recalled. “I loved coming here every day. As the years went on, she gave me more and more responsibility. I really owe her a great deal for my success, for prepping me for this position.”

When Arnold left Middlebury this past February to take a job as deputy director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services for the city of Edmonds in Washington state, she endorsed Hunt as her successor. As it turned out, the selectboard elected to keep the position vacant while considering a reorganization of the department. The board on Aug. 14 OK’d a new leadership structure that reduced parks & recreation staffing from 2.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to 2 FTE, and calls for the department to be led by a superintendent instead of a director.

Hunt was officially named superintendent after the department reorganization, and he’ll essentially have the same oversight responsibilities that Arnold had, including putting together the annual budget. The Public Works Department, under Operations Director Bill Kernan, will continue to be lead supervisor for parks maintenance.

HUNT’S TO-DO LIST

It’s indeed lonely at the top for Hunt right now. That’s because his assistant program coordinator, Brian Hald, left on Aug. 24 to pursue a master’s degree in marketing. So one of Hunt’s first big tasks will be to fill the program coordinator’s position, described in a posting on the town’s website, townofmiddlebury.org.

“Luckily, he was nice enough to stay through the summer and get us through those busy months,” Hunt said of Hald.

Along with replacing Hald, Hunt has some other items in his to-do list. They include:

•  Drafting a comprehensive plan for the public park lands adjacent to Mary Hogan Elementary School. The school district currently leases that property to the town. Middlebury residents in a few months will see a major new amenity on that park property — a picnic pavilion, to be located south of the basketball court. The 20-feet-by-30-feet covered structure will be built with the generous help of the Middlebury Lion’s Club, Hunt noted.

“We’re really trying to make the recreation park a destination,” Hunt said.

With that in mind, parks & recreation is saving money to eventually install new play structures at the tot-lot playground and add some new restrooms in that area, according to Hunt.

•  Making some additional improvements at the municipal pool, including perhaps a climbing wall, slides and some spray features in the kiddie area. He’d also like to create some more shade for pool users.

“The pool is probably in the best shape it’s been in since I’ve been here, but I’d like to see us increase its use,” Hunt said.

He acknowledged pool use has been excellent this summer due in part to hot temperatures, but he’d like to see a consistently high turnout from year to year.

•  Strengthening the department’s partnerships with Middlebury College and the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center. He believes students from those two programs could enhance parks & recreation offerings by volunteering and sharing ideas.

•  Improving recreation programming for adults.

“Right now, we’re really good at offering programs for school-age children and active seniors, and I really want to focus on the adult demographic and start getting some adult programming — whether it’s career building, or kickball and Wiffle ball leagues — just to get adults out and active,” Hunt said. “Part of our job is to enhance things in Middlebury and make people want to stay here. Any way we can do that should be a real priority.”

•  Completing a statistical analysis of the department’s programs, to determine which offerings should be enhanced or potentially dropped, based on use and feedback.

ENCOURAGING WORDS

Past and present town officials are pleased with Hunt’s promotion.

“Dustin is well-deserving of the job and is so well loved by the community, it’s a win-win situation,” Arnold said in an email. “Dustin and I had the privilege of doing great things for the town of Middlebury. I am sure he will continue guiding the Parks & Recreation Department in a positive & creative manner.”

Tom Scanlon is Middlebury’s health officer and former chairman of the town’s recreation advisory board.

“It is a well-deserved honor for Dustin, who has been the glue holding the department together for many, many years,” Scanlon said. “He has always been a consummate professional and will well represent the town of Middlebury.”

“Dustin has been a key member of our Parks & Recreation team for the last nine years and I look forward to working with him in his new role as superintendent,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said.

Kernan believes Hunt will do a great job.

“He is well known and respected by the Middlebury community and brings great enthusiasm and fresh ideas to the workplace,” Kernan said.

Dustin and Jade Hunt have two sons, Landon, 9, and Oakley, 5.

They plan to stick around for a while.

“We’re here for the long haul,” Hunt said. “Some might see this as a stepping stone kind of job, but I’m committed to this community for as long as they’ll have me.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve in the community I love,” he added.

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