MVAA eyes new headquarters, dispatch service

MIDDLEBURY — Work has begun on a new Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) headquarters off South Street that will give the organization a more than five-fold increase in space and allow it to offer centralized dispatching for fire and emergency services throughout the county.
“We are definitely pleased we were finally able to get this started,” MVAA Executive Director Bill Edson said of the $2.4 million project, to be sited on a one-acre plot just north of Porter Medical Center.
“We will be opening a new building in our 40th year (in 2010).”
The MVAA’s space crunch has been well chronicled. The nonprofit organization and its 12 paid staff and 40 volunteers now work out of an approximately 2,100-square-foot converted residence off Elm Street. The MVAA has outgrown the space, which also has severe parking shortcomings.
Edson noted the MVAA had, for around a decade, been looking for a new spot that could host a larger building and more ample parking. It was last year that the organization pinned down the site next to Porter, on land that is owned by Middlebury College. For the next eight months, construction crews will build a new 11,860-square-foot structure that will include a four-bay garage to accommodate up to eight emergency response vehicles, a conference room, a training room, a second-floor storage area, offices, changing rooms, sleeping quarters for up to eight workers, kitchen facilities and a space for a future dispatching office.
It’s a dispatching office that could offer 24/7 services to fire and rescue agencies throughout the county, according to Edson. Such dispatching is currently offered by multiple providers, including the Vermont State Police, Porter, the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, Middlebury police, Emergency 911 and through the town of Shelburne.
Edson believes it could be more advantageous and efficient for area fire and rescue departments to have their dispatching done through one local, central office.
Participating agencies would be asked to help fund the service.
“I would like to see dispatching available within the next 18 months,” Edson said.
Tom Estey, president of the Addison County Firefighters’ Association, said he would like to learn more about the potential costs of central, 24/7 dispatching service through the MVAA.
He said nine Addison County communities — including Vergennes, Monkton, Ferrisburgh and Starksboro — currently receive fire department dispatching through the town of Shelburne.
Estey explained that Shelburne charges the outside departments a fee per call.
“It never hurts to look,” Estey said of prospect of central dispatching through the MVAA.
In the meantime, MVAA officials will focus on getting a new headquarters to move into by next May or June. The new spot is expected to give the MVAA better response time in general, but in particular for calls coming from towns located west of Otter Creek (an increasing area of demand). Being close to Porter will allow the MVAA to make on-campus calls — such as between the nursing home and hospital — without going on South Street, Edson noted. The Eastview retirement community, which is due to be built next to the Porter Medical Center campus beginning next spring, will also increase demand for MVAA services in the area.
“We will be less obtrusive,” Edson said of the ambulance travel that will be able to be done in the Porter area, versus having to continue to do it from Elm Street.
The MVAA will finance its new headquarters through a combination of savings, loans, donations and proceeds from the sale of its Elm Street property. The MVAA has not yet put its property on the market, as it is currently entertaining an offer. Any new use of the Elm Street property may not increase traffic beyond current levels, according to Edson.
“We plan to sort out (the offer) within the next couple of weeks,” Edson said.
The MVAA is in the “silent phase” of a fund-raising campaign officials hope will yield $1 million.
MVAA responds to more than 1,800 calls each year and serves Middlebury, Bridport, Shoreham, Orwell, Ripton, Salisbury, Cornwall, Weybridge, Whiting, and New Haven.
When the new headquarters does open, longtime MVAA members in particular — such as Wedge Murdoch — will feel a special sense of satisfaction. The organization began 39 years ago with a handful of volunteers, including Murdoch, using a converted hearse as an ambulance.
“You could really see it in Wedge’s eyes when we broke ground,” Edson said. “He was really proud to be a part of it and see it go full circle. ”
Anyone interested in learning more about the project and/or how to contribute should call the MVAA at 388-3286.

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