Special elections are notorious for smaller turnouts. That’s particularly unfortunate for issues of importance and which have dominated the public discourse for months. In Middlebury, almost 1,700 cast votes on Town Meeting Day to decide in favor of a $6.5 bond to build a new municipal building and recreational center. Almost certainly, fewer people will vote in this reconsideration on Tuesday, but hopefully a reasonable number will turn out so that the issue can be put to rest.
Please do you part and vote by Australian ballot at the municipal gymnasium, 7 a.m to 7 p.m.
In a direct mail piece on the building proposals, which was paid for by project opponents and mailed last week to all Middlebury residents, three issues are addressed: inadequate planning, location, and a questionable allegation that the proposal is not a good financial deal for taxpayers.
If a 24-month process involving three large committees with dozens of open meetings held monthly throughout the time period is not “thorough, inclusive, transparent and creative,” our only assumption is that such process, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The college and town, by the way, do meet monthly to discuss mutual needs and objectives, and have been doing so for years. It is one of the reasons the town-gown relationship has been so solid for the past decade.
As for town planning, Middlebury is ahead of the curve with layers upon layers of planning carefully crafted through years of community input and staff hours. Could more be done? Sure, more of anything can always be done. Would it be effective or wasted time? That’s a better question.
On the issue of money, opponents are injecting wild conjecture and fear to attack the project’s strongest point: that it is a financial bargain for taxpayers. In total, the town is getting a $8.5 million to $9 million value at a cost to taxpayers of $2 million. That is a fantastic return on the town’s modest investment.
Opponents attack it by suggesting the cost to raze the buildings and move the Osborne House could be far more than the $1 million allocated. Not so, officials say. In fact, estimates by those doing the work suggest the amount might be too much, and anything left over can go to other facets of the project. On that point, as others, voters need to decide whether to believe the professionals or those who want the project defeated.
On location, the crux of the issue for the municipal building is that it be located downtown. This fits the bill. As for the recreational center, the new location solves an existing problem with the former Legion building, benefits both schools and has ample parking. That’s a win-win-win.
As for the two new buildings having 13,000 less square feet than the existing building, we see that as a cost benefit in two ways: first, it’s less space to heat and maintain for the next 100 years; second, the basement level of the existing buildings is dark and dingy, drab and dreary, and moldy. Moisture-laden basements with poor natural light and ventillation get that way. Losing that square-footage is a blessing. “Small architecture” (doing more with less space) is the laudable new era of design. The current building is about 30,000 square feet; the new buildings will be closer to 17,000. That in itself represents a huge savings over the long term in energy usage and building efficiencies.
Would another two-to-three years of planning and community debate could the town do better? We don’t think so.
Maybe the project could be fine-tuned here or there, but then inflation would drive costs higher, and the college offer won’t be repeated, so the cost to taxpayers would be substantially higher — at minimum three times or more.
From this perspective, that’s not a better deal for taxpayers.
Angelo S. Lynn