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Middlebury roundabout ‘centerpiece’ taking shape

MIDDLEBURY — An ad hoc committee planning a centerpiece for the soon-to-be-built roundabout intersection on Main Street in Middlebury has formally recommended a prominent “public work of art” that should be 20-25 feet tall, illuminated at night and be designed to be appreciated from a safe distance from traffic.
The “Centerpiece Roundabout Committee” offered these and several other recommendations to the selectboard on Tuesday. While the centerpiece is being proposed as a functional, symbolic and aesthetic postscript to the massive $16 million Cross Street Bridge project, the monument — or whatever object is ultimately placed in the roundabout — is generating more debate than town officials ever anticipated.
“I have had a number of calls, as I am sure most of us have, I think more on this subject than anything else having to do with the bridge,” said Selectman Dean George.
Feedback thus far has ranged from outright support to criticism about the potential magnitude of the centerpiece, its cost and whether landscaping and/or a large tree might suffice.
Supporters of a more elaborate structure argue that a fairly large mass is needed to visually direct drivers around the roundabout.
Selectman Victor Nuovo, a member of the centerpiece committee, said the public will be asked for input on the centerpiece, which is to be financed through donations and grants. He said artists will be a asked to compete for the contract to design the piece. It will likely be another year before a specific centerpiece project is sorted out and ready for construction, Nuovo noted.
The committee has also recommended that the centerpiece:
• Be “historic or contemporary in its form, and aesthetic.”
• Celebrate the 250th anniversary of Middlebury’s town charter. That anniversary comes up next year.
• Be made with material that is “permanent and durable. It may include stone/marble, concrete, steel, metal sheathing, fiberglass and glazing.”
• Be designed “so that it may be viewed with greatest advantage from sidewalks surrounding the roundabout. Any inscriptions should be readable from there also. (The centerpiece) should not have features that invite pedestrians to cross over to view it. Its beauty should be most evident when it is seen at a distance.”
Centerpiece committee members want the selectboard, planning commission and design advisory committee to support their recommendations before proceeding any further. Selectboard members on Tuesday said they believe the committee is on the right track.
“Really, what you’ve done, is set parameters for what I would see as a very interesting competition for the design of public art,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said to Nuovo. “It is very difficult to predict what might be brought forward through such a process, but it in fact can be very intriguing and inspiring.”
Tenny doesn’t believe funding will be a hurdle for an appropriate centerpiece design.
“I would think that if the right work of art, the right design, if brought forward, it would embrace the kind of support for which dollars would be easily obtained,” Tenny said. “I don’t think funding is the issue; I think it’s finding the right inspiration.”
Officials hope that inspiration will pass the test of time.
 “One would hope we have an opportunity to do something that future generations, without knowing our names, would say, ‘They really did something good here.’”
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Reviewed a list of 15 water system improvement projects that would be in line for funding through a portion of the $3 million bond that Middlebury voters will be asked to endorse on Tuesday, July 13.
At issue are a backlog of water-related projects that town officials would like to address during the next four fiscal years. With municipal bind interest rates currently averaging 3.9 percent, town officials are recommending a bond issue that would allow financing of the 15 water projects during the next four fiscal years. At the top of the list are water infrastructure improvement plans for Charles Avenue/Water Street; Pulp Mill Bridge Road; Rolling Acres and Foote Street.
• Agreed to pay Wisconsin-based Applied Ecological Services (AES) $101,000 for a study of the potential of growing biomass/biofuel crops in the Middlebury area. The study would fit into the town’s ongoing study of the feasibility of biomass plants to provide alternative heating/power sources for local businesses and institutions. The cost of the AES study is being paid through $250,000 in federal grant money the town has already received.
• Agree to ask the Vermont Agency of Transportation to deem, as a higher project priority, a roundabout intersection at Exchange Street/Route 7 rather than the roundabout being envisioned for Court Street/Creek Road. Selectboard members said signalization improvements have addressed some of the outstanding traffic circulation problems at Court Street/Creek Road. In the meantime, the Exchange Street/Route 7 intersection has emerged as a higher safety priority, according to town officials. No specific timetable has been set for the intersection work.
• Agreed to seek requests for proposals from companies interested in replacing the Ilsley Public Library’s dry sprinkler system. The system, officials explained, was installed during the 1970s with some defective pipe that must be replaced in order to avoid the potential of major water damage to library books.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.
 

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