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MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College’s decision to donate $9 million toward an in-town bridge project at Cross Street represents the third substantial town-gown partnership to have come to the fore this year.
The college last month agreed to provide the Town Hall Theater with $1 million spread over the next 20 years to give the facility a strong financial footing as it prepares for major interior renovations that should allow for an opening next summer. The agreement will give Middlebury College students regular use of the Merchants Row-based theater for productions, rehearsals and mentorships. That pledge comes on the heels of a $125,000 contribution the institution made to the theater effort in July 2006.
Meanwhile, college officials and downtown business leaders continue to explore possible uses for the former Eat Good Food space in the Battell Block off Main Street. Tentative plans call for the location to be used as a nightspot for college students, with possible retail/civic use during the day. The effort is primarily geared toward bringing students into the Middlebury community, according to college officials.
Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz said the partnerships reflect the institution’s desire to become more closely allied with the town in solving common problems. He also wants the college’s students to become invested in town-gown partnerships — such as the Town Hall Theater, mentorships and charitable efforts. Students’ educational experience can only be enhanced by collaborations with the town, according to Liebowitz.
“If we look at it from the perspective of the students representing one of the resources that can really represent dynamism in this town — which no other towns have — we ought to take more advantage of that. So the whole idea of the college getting involved with the town makes great sense,” Liebowitz said.
“We have a generation of students who are doers; they like to be involved and engaged. For some of them, the Middlebury College campus is too small. Some of them come with incredible talents and experiences that we didn’t have when we were going to college. Therefore, to come to Middlebury and have this wonderful college might not be enough, in terms of what they need in four years,” Liebowitz said, “so why not develop these relationships with the local communities, as we have, and enhance that relationship?
“From my perspective,” Liebowitz added, “engaging the town and having more opportunities for the students in the town benefits us, the students and also the town and the surrounding communities.”
History of Middlebury in-town bridges
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials and residents have been discussing the notion of another in-town crossing of the Otter Creek for at least the past half-century. The following are some of the notable events that have preceded this week’s watershed announcement of bridge funding assistance from Middlebury College:
• August, 1952. Middlebury’s Three Mile Bridge is destroyed by fire. Originally erected in 1836, the 150-foot long covered span crossed the Otter Creek, connecting Three Mile Bridge Road with Morse Road, which intersects with South Street Extension.
• 1953. Middlebury residents decide against replacing the Three Mile Bridge, instead declaring a preference to explore an in-town bridge.
• 1976. The Route 7 Task Force recommends a westerly bypass as a means of skirting through-traffic around downtown Middlebury. The suggestion fails to win enough support, however.
• June, 1981. Townspeople defeat a ballot measure on a proposed easterly bypass around the town of Middlebury by a tally of 369 to 695. The effort is vigorously opposed by an ad hoc “Don’t Divide Middlebury Committee” that asserts such a bypass would result in commercial growth north and south of the village.
• March, 1983. Residents vote 575 to 389 in favor of spending $15,000 for preliminary engineering on the concept of a new downtown bridge across the Otter Creek.
• 1987. Town agrees to spend $40,000 for an “independent, comprehensive traffic study” to help determine the best ways to alleviate gridlock through Middlebury.
• March, 1991. Town votes 813-527 in favor of ongoing planning for an easterly bypass around downtown Middlebury.
• December, 1991. An ad-hoc bridge committee and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) work in concert on preliminary designs for a new in-town bridge that would span the Otter Creek in downtown Middlebury at Cross Street. Estimated cost of the new span is $7 million to $10 million. Designs include a conventional steel girder span and a more traditional concrete arch bridge.
• November, 1992. Residents back the Cross Street location for the in-town bridge by a 1,987 to 1,653 tally. They also support new planning and design work by a 1,908 to 1,527 margin. But residents also tell selectmen not to appropriate any new money for the in-town bridge project without a new vote of the town. But the in-town bridge effort loses momentum, as well as its ranking on the state’s capital projects list, during the ensuing months and years.
• October, 2005. Middlebury selectmen unanimously endorse Cross Street as the preferred location for a new in-town bridge. Selectmen cast their vote after hearing a report from the town’s ad hoc bridge committee, which had whittled down seven potential Otter Creek crossings to the Cross Street option. The Pulp Mill Bridge location on Seymour Street was the other leading option.
• January, 2006. The AOT asks the Vermont Legislature to assign a project number to Middlebury’s proposed in-town bridge, a designation that would give the span important recognition, along with easier access to state and federal planning money.
• March, 2006. Residents vote 695 to 203 in support of the concept of an in-town bridge at Cross Street. They vote 666 to 226 to allocate $75,000 toward planning, engineering and design work for a new in-town span.
• June, 2006. Middlebury selectmen order aerial mapping of the proposed span site on Cross Street and agree to spend up to $7,500 to determine the values of adjacent properties that would have to be acquired to pursue the project.
• January, 2007. New AOT Secretary Neale Lunderville prioritizes repairs to the state’s existing roads, culverts and bridges, over any substantial new projects — like Middlebury’s proposed in-town bridge.
• June, 2007. Selectmen pick David Hallam as bridge project coordinator and announced the completion of appraisals for property within the proposed right-of-way for the new span.
• February, 2007. Middlebury selectmen request the filing of legislation that would allow the community to float a bond for up to 50 years — instead of what was a 20-year maximum — as an option for independently financing a new in-town bridge. The Legislature agrees to a 30-year maximum for bonding.
•            November, 2007. Town and Middlebury College officials confirm to the Addison Independent a major funding offer for the proposed in-town bridge at Cross Street. The college agrees to donate $9 million ($600,000 per year for 30 years) toward the estimated $16 million total cost of the span. Selectmen will look for funding from the state, federal government, local taxpayers and Porter Hospital to help fund the balance of the project.

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