Middlebury considers roundabout monument

MIDDLEBURY — Many people would agree that Middlebury’s Cross Street Bridge — a $16 million project that has been more than a half-century in the making — will be a monumental achievement once it is completed this fall.
So what better way to mark that achievement than by a monument?
That’s the direction an ad hoc committee of local officials, residents and historians is taking right now. The so-called “Centerpiece Committee” is currently fleshing out plans for some kind of symbolic structure that will eventually take a spot on a 22-foot-diameter circular area within a new roundabout intersection on Main Street that will feed traffic to the Cross Street Bridge.
The new roundabout — which will serve College, Park, South Main and Cross streets, along with Bakery Lane — will be built this summer. In the meantime, the Centerpiece Committee will be looking for ideas from the community on some kind of symbolic piece to cap the project.
Led by Selectman Victor Nuovo, the committee has met once, but has already bandied about some ideas that will ultimately have to receive selectboard approval.
Some committee members, at this stage, believe the monument should be “substantial” in size, according to Nuovo. That’s because the roundabout can be considered the second “pole” of the downtown, with the Congregational Church of Middlebury being the first.
“Although this would not be as massive as the Congregational Church steeple, it would be something of significant height, so that you could see it as you come across the (Cross Street) bridge and coming across Battell Bridge from the north,” Nuovo said. “It would have to be monumental, even if it were not a monument — this is at least our thought at the present time.”
Committee members are considering possible themes for a monument, one of which is already gaining some momentum.
“The thought was that since 2011 is the 250th  anniversary of the town charter, that it perhaps should be a monument that … commemorates the town,” Nuovo said, “the fact that we’ve been here 250 years in this place and the hope is we might continue for a considerable while longer.”
Committee members said the monument project should also recognize that the roundabout spot is the gateway to the college.
Plans call for the panel to establish a set of criteria for the monument, including parameters for its height, width, dimensions, visibility and the variety of materials that might be used. The committee was scheduled to flesh out some of those details — and bounce around some ideas on the monument’s architectural style — on Thursday, May 6, at 12:30 p.m. at the Sheldon Museum.
Museum Executive Director Jan Albers believes the town has an opportunity to make a statement of 21st-century civic pride through the centerpiece, a historic legacy to leave alongside the other venerable statues, structures and monuments erected in centuries past.
“This (roundabout location) is a small, token place, but a symbolic spot where Middlebury and our region have an opportunity to say ‘we care about the town,’” said Albers, a member of the Centerpiece Committee.
Once the committee has established a list of basic desires for the structure, it will reach out to prospective designers. That could be done through a competition or by soliciting qualifications and design samples from candidates, according to Nuovo.
Along the way, the committee will hold public meetings to take suggestions from citizens, civic groups and businesses. Nuovo said the committee could also seek input from people in neighboring towns who regularly travel through Middlebury.
It remains too early to tell when a centerpiece will come to fruition.
“We decided it would be unrealistic to expect the structure would be completed by the fall of 2011,” Nuovo said, though he hopes a design will be completed and authorized by that time.
Until then, committee members are considering asking for ideas for a rudimentary, “temporary” centerpiece that could be developed from ideas from area students, seniors and other citizens. Nuovo reasoned some kind of structure will be useful not only as an aesthetic element, but to create an added visual guide to ensure motorists travel around — instead of through — the rotary.
Nuovo stressed any centerpiece or monument will not be financed through the Cross Street bridge project. As such, supporters will need to apply for grants and donations to make it happen.
“We are hoping this is something that is not going to be monumentally expensive,” Nuovo said.
Anyone wanting to share input on a roundabout centerpiece-monument can do so by e-mailing Nuovo at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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