Middlebury firefighters request help in assessing station needs

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury firefighters want to hire a consultant to help determine if the department’s current two firehouses can be preserved and improved, or whether it would make better financial sense to build a new, more centrally located station.
“We are at point where we feel we need to have a feasibility study,” Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole told selectboard members on Tuesday.
“This is strictly the first step.”
The request comes two months after firefighters led town officials on a tour of the department’s Seymour Street headquarters and East Main Street station. Both facilities were built decades ago, are deteriorating and are hard-pressed to accommodate the ever growing firefighting vehicles that are becoming the norm in the industry.
Cole said a consultant could help the department answer some key questions about its space needs and whether current facilities can be realistically upgraded and expanded. Cole noted the department has a few options to explore, including approaching the Middlebury Community House about possibly purchasing some adjacent land on which the Seymour Street headquarters could expand; or trying to buy land near Shea Motors off Route 7 south on which to erect a new station. But the department needs some more firm numbers before seriously pursuing either of those two courses, according to Cole.
“We are a point where we are spinning our wheels,” Cole said of the need for some professional guidance.
Cole proposed that the town hire Burlington-based consultant Timothy Duff to perform a feasibility study for the department. He noted that Duff served as architect for the new Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association headquarters off South Street. Cole said the study could be done for around $10,000.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger noted the town has a facilities planning fund that could be tapped for a feasibility study. Selectboard members agreed that such a study is needed, but added such a job should be put out to bid in order to get the best deal. The town will put out a request for proposals from companies seeking to do the study.
“This is the logical next step,” said Selectman Nick Artim.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Agreed to size up necessary repairs for the town green gazebo, which has a leaky roof and an electrical problems. The Middlebury Rotary Club erected the gazebo around 35 years ago. The club agreed to provide routine maintenance on the structure, with the town bearing responsibility for major repairs. The selectboard agreed to pursue a fix for the gazebo, preferably before winter sets in.
•  Signed a $340,000 change order for the $16 million Cross Street Bridge project. Finger said the change order is based on town-approved additions to the project, not as a result of any errors or mistakes made by the town or contractor. Officials are optimistic Middlebury will recoup around $200,000 of that new expense through the sale of town-owner property near the new bridge. That property includes the former Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society building at 6 Cross St. That would leave a balance of $140,000 that officials said could be absorbed within the local option revenues the town is raising for its $7 million share of the bridge project. Middlebury College has agreed to absorb the remaining $9 million for the project.
•  Confirmed the Oct. 30 grand opening celebration for the Cross Street Bridge project, a day-long extravaganza for which the town has set aside $12,800 for fireworks, speaker system, a large tent, lights and other supplies. The board, at the behest of some local citizens concerned about the budget for the party, will consider inviting attendees to bring food contributions to the event in recognition of the tough economy.
•  Agreed to plan a public competition for designs for a centerpiece for the new Main Street roundabout.
•  Continued to discuss a joint effort by the town, Better Middlebury Partnership, Middlebury College and the business community to boost marketing and economic development initiatives for the downtown area. Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said the effort involves two separate approaches — a more aggressive marketing effort, and the potential hiring of an economic development official who would help the town create jobs, expand business opportunities and recommend policies for boosting Middlebury’s grand list. Tenny said the costs of these initiatives and how that expense would be apportioned is still being discussed.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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