Middlebury refines fire station plans

MIDDLEBURY — An ad hoc committee studying the prospect of upgrading Middlebury Fire Department facilities is close to deciding on a preferred option that will likely be fielded by voters next Town Meeting Day.
Some members of the town’s fire station study committee delivered that update to the Middlebury selectboard on Monday, along with news that maintaining stations on Seymour Street and in East Middlebury is gaining more support than the notion of erecting a single new facility on Route 7 South.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said the prospect of a new station on Route 7 South took a hit when committee members recently learned that the proposed location — across from Shea Motors — would affect some homeowners’ residential insurance rates. Those rates take into consideration Insurance Service Office (ISO) ratings that are based on how proximate, or distant, a home is located from fire protection. Ideally, according to ISO ratings, a home should be within 5 miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a hydrant.
The average Middlebury resident’s homeowners insurance is $738, based on the community having two stations and therefore a good ISO rating, according to the fire station committee’s March 29 meeting minutes.
Establishing a single station would take some homes out of that ideal, 5-mile ISO radius and in some cases double their residential insurance rates, Finger explained.
“The conclusion was that if we decided to consolidate into a single station at the proposed location … that that would effectively increase the insurance rates for around 70-plus properties because of their increased distance from the facility,” Finger said. “That was a large factor in the discussion.”
He added the committee has been “working very diligently” to minimize the potential costs of the project that is ultimately placed before the voters. The panel has asked Bread Loaf Corp. to refine building plans in wake of some initial cost estimates that were outside of some members’ comfort zone, Finger noted.
“What the committee is really focused on, at this point, is what the actual need is for the department, and the real need is to house equipment that is bigger than it used to be and to fix — if it stays on Seymour Street — the 1932 part of the station, where the floor is all shored up with timbers,” Finger said.
At the same time, committee members are advocating for a somewhat smaller station in East Middlebury to replace the current version, which has cracked roof shingles; rotting window sills and roof soffits; a deteriorating foundation base; and a multi-graded concrete floor with no drainage, requiring equipment to be washed outdoors.
It’s a new facility that could feature a small storage addition for East Middlebury Prudential Committee equipment, according to Finger.
Finger said it is clear fire officials will not request a lavish building project.
“They want some functional, adequate facilities that could serve the town very well,” Finger said.
Plans call for the committee to report to the selectboard in late May.
“I have been very impressed with the process here,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “(The process) has been looking very carefully at cost and getting the best buy.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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