Middlebury firefighters eye $5.2M project

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department is proposing a $5.2 million makeover of its Seymour Street and East Middlebury stations, a plan that could go to the voters as soon as next March.
Members of the Middlebury Fire Station Committee outlined their preliminary plans to the town selectboard on Tuesday, calling for the replacement of the East Middlebury station with a slightly smaller, more energy efficient structure, and an expansion/renovation of the Seymour Street facility.
The proposal — done with assistance from Bread Loaf Corp. — was the culmination of 17 months of analysis on how best to address the shortcomings of current fire facilities.
Those shortcomings are many, according to committee member Peter Brakeley.
He noted the Seymour Street headquarters is made up of two segments, one erected in 1932 and the other put up in 1978.
“As fire apparatus has become bigger and bigger, the concerns of the fire department have become obvious,” Brakeley said.
He showed slides indicating how the latest model fire trucks can clear the current bays doors with only inches to spare on each side. Moreover, he noted the largest vehicle will scrape the top of the door in the winter unless firefighters shovel snow at the entryway before it is driven out.
Vehicles have also gotten heavier, he noted, placing more pressure on a floor that already has to be buttressed from the basement with numerous support posts. Brakeley said the earlier model pumpers had frames designed to carry 500 gallons of water. That volume has gone up to 1,000 gallons with the most recent models, adding more than 4,000 pounds of weight.
“There is a tremendous load on a floor that was built to handle half as much,” Brakeley said.
He noted that ironically, the Seymour Street station — which is not handicap accessible, does not have any fire protection of its own, in the former of a sprinkler system. As a result, the station itself could go up in flames if firefighters are away en masse at a call.
Another problem: The station apron is not entirely visible from the second-floor “watch room,” meaning it is difficult to coordinate traffic in and out of the facility.
Fire station No. 2 in East Middlebury is also in rough shape, Brakeley said. That building is a former service station that has rotting sills, single-pane glass, and a concrete block foundation that is starting to chip away.
“The cost of heating that building is almost as much as heating station No. 1 on Seymour Street,” Brakeley said, noting its energy inefficiency.
The Middlebury Fire Station Committee discussed the merits of meeting the department’s needs at the current station sites, or consolidating into one new, centrally located station. After evaluating four possible new locations — and determining that all four could compromise either response time or homeowners’ insurance rates — the committee elected to keep the current two fire station locations.
With the aid of Bread Loaf, they fashioned plans calling for:
•  The addition of 8,100 square feet of new space onto the southern end of the Seymour Street station, in the form of a single-story, four-bay addition. This means the fire department would have to purchase a small chunk of land from the neighboring Middlebury Community House and would require the razing of a small yellow cottage on that property. Fire officials noted that the Community House overseers are amenable to such a proposal.
The plan also calls for renovations to the 1932 and 1978 sections of the station to make it more user-friendly, better insulated and more accessible to the public. On-site parking for firefighters — who now must often park across the street from the station — would be upgraded, according to Bread Loaf Architecture Operations Manager Chris Huston.
Committee members said the roof of the new addition would be built in a way that could provide for future expansion — potentially for dorms, if the town ever moves to a full-time fire department.
•  Demolition of the East Middlebury station, which would be replaced by a basic, 2,000-square-foot, wood-framed building that would feature two bays. The new building would be roughly 400 square feet smaller than the current structure. It would have a small bathroom and would be built to conserve as much energy as possible, according to committee members. The East Middlebury plan also provides for a 280-square-foot storage facility for the local fire district.
Organizers said the plans are designed to take the fire department more than two decades into the future. A positive vote next Town Meeting Day would allow for an estimated nine-month construction timetable to begin early next spring, according to Huston.
Middlebury Fire Department Assistant Chief David Shaw asked that the selectboard allocate some funds in the near future to pay for architectural drawings of the building plans to ensure a timely start to construction if and when voters give their approval.
Selectboard members agreed that the committee has put together plans that can be sold to the public.
“I salute the hard work you’ve done,” Selectman Craig Bingham told members of the committee, adding he appreciates the efforts to preserve the 1932 portion of the Seymour Street station. “Now we can sell this to the voters.”
Selectman and committee member Nick Artim said he appreciated the wisdom of maintaining two fire stations, noting the downtown train derailment a few years ago that could have put Seymour Street out of commission. Had that occurred, Artim said the town would still have had the East Middlebury station from which to operate.
“Job well-done,” he told fire department members.
“This is impressive,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the plans, adding, “we have a lot of work now to determine how we are going to pay for this.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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