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Plans take shape for Middlebury fire station efforts

MIDDLEBURY — An ad hoc committee is putting together plans for a major makeover of Middlebury’s fire stations, and local fire officials are scheduled to update residents on those plans at town meeting in March. A bond vote could follow later this year.
“My hope is we would have something to the voters by this summer or fall,” Middlebury Fire Department Chief Rick Cole said on Monday. “We don’t want to rush into anything, but we want to keep things moving.”
The Middlebury Fire Station Committee has been working with Bread Loaf Corp. on options to improve the town’s fire facilities, now headquartered on Seymour Street with a branch in East Middlebury. Those facilities’ shortcomings have been well documented.
The Seymour Street headquarters was built in the 1930s, with an addition put on during the 1970s. The station currently houses five fire vehicles, including a ladder truck that fits in with only inches to spare.
Fire officials have to scrape the pavement in front of the fire station’s bay doors after a snowstorm of more than a few inches in order to ensure adequate clearance for the ladder truck. The department has had to add extra timber and steel reinforcement posts to the basement to fortify the main floor above, which is showing stress cracks and rot spots and is being asked to support many tons of firefighting vehicles and equipment.
The East Main Street station is a former service station (now owned by the East Middlebury Fire District) that has been expanded over the years. It houses a pumper, a tanker and a utility truck. The building has cracked roof shingles, rotting windowsills and roof soffits, a deteriorating foundation, and a multi-graded concrete floor with no drainage, requiring equipment to be washed outdoors.
With the next generation of larger, heavier firefighting apparatus coming soon, local officials believe it is time to upgrade facilities. With a few meetings under its belt and more to come, the study committee is considering such options as:
• A substantial renovation and expansion of the Seymour Street headquarters.
This would entail tearing down the narrow, 1930s portion of the building, which includes two bays. The 1970s portion of the building would be renovated and more than doubled with a new addition (onto the adjacent Middlebury Community House property) that would increase of the structure to about 25,000 square feet, according to Christopher J. Huston, Bread Loaf Corp’s architecture operations manager.
Plans call for the expanded building to have six larger bays that Huston stressed would sit atop solid ground in the new addition.
The second floor of the station would include the kitchen, two meeting rooms, three offices, lockers, showers, bathroom, and space that could be converted into dorm rooms in the future should the department move to some full-time, paid staff.
Plans also provide for a fitness room, mechanical room, and training and storage space.
It is a project that is being designed to meet the fire department’s needs for the next 30 to 50 years, officials said.
Officials noted the renovation and expansion of the Seymour Street headquarters would hinge on the fire department acquiring some adjacent land — about a half an acre — from the neighboring Middlebury Community House. The needed acreage includes an out-building that would have to be razed. The community house board of directors has been amenable to discussing the deal, Huston said.
• A new, 21,000-square-foot fire station on college-owned land on Route 7 south, across from Shea Motors. The new project would include an administrative headquarters with essentially the same amenities as the Seymour Street renovation option, along with a six-bay garage wing.
The fire department would have to negotiate a lease or purchase of land from Middlebury College to make this option work. Middlebury College Director of Business Services Tom Corbin is a member of the Fire Station Study Committee. He confirmed on Tuesday the college is willing to consider selling or leasing land to make a new fire station possible.
• Replacing the current East Middlebury fire station with a basic new building at the same location. The new, 2,400-square-foot structure would include two larger bays that could each accommodate two fire vehicles.
“It is basically replicating what is there, with 1,000 less square feet,” Huston said.
The building would be equipped with a bathroom and little else. It would include parking and a firefighters’ entrance at the rear of the structure to allow safer and more efficient access to firefighters. Huston said the new building would be more energy efficient than the current station.
Officials will be recommending the East Middlebury fire station be replaced — regardless of whether a new headquarters is built on Route 7 or the Seymour Street facility is renovated and expanded.
That commitment is based in part on a 1996 merger agreement between the Middlebury and East Middlebury fire departments. That agreement, among other things, stipulates how close fire protection services must be to East Middlebury should the community agree to abandon its station. The East Middlebury station is owned by the local fire district.
“I think, psychologically, people like the idea of having the availability of fire protection in East Middlebury,” said Prudential Committee Chairman Mike Newton.
Huston said cost estimates for the project options should be ready by the end of the month.
The Middlebury Fire Station Committee, chaired by Lt. Pat Shaw, will spend the coming weeks narrowing down the options to a preferred course that will be presented to the town selectboard, and then the public.
He stressed the fire department wants to make the project as cost-efficient as possible.
“We have the taxpayers in mind on this project,” Shaw said. “We don’t plan on building a Taj Mahal, we plan on building a facility that will meet our needs for the next 30 years.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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