New fire stations needed, but frugality is appreciated

The decision by a town committee, after 17 months of study, to renovate and rebuild the two existing fire stations in Middlebury and East Middlebury has ample merits and deserves the town’s initial support, along with go-ahead plans to firm up any details the public will need to make an informed vote at town meeting next March.
A tentative suggestion to proceed with architectural drawings in anticipation of the successful approval of the town funds needed to complete the $5.4 million project, however, is hopefully a call to flesh out costs to find alternative ways to accomplish similar goals with less expense, rather than moving forward before public support is fully approved. The goal to move forward as quickly as possible — with construction starting in the spring of 2012 — is not as important as being sure the project is as fiscally prudent as possible while still delivering a project that fits Middlebury’s needs for the foreseeable future.
At issue are current plans calling for the razing of the East Middlebury building and a construction of a slightly smaller but more energy efficient space; plus the renovation of the existing 11,756-square-foot Seymour Street facility, along with a 8,100-square-foot expansion — almost doubling the existing space in that facility. The expansion would mostly entail a four-bay addition to accommodate today’s larger vehicles.
We fully support the town’s effort to upgrade its two fire stations. Both facilities are in tough shape and are, without a doubt, inadequate for today’s equipment. The challenge is to make such town improvements and not drive property taxes through the roof. That becomes all the more difficult if the town is also considering a new municipal building, paying for part of a round-about at Exchange Street and Route 7 North, reserving some funds that might be needed for any town share of the railroad underpass projects on Main Street and Merchants Row (including the possibility of a rail station at some point), and reserving capacity to do what it might need to do to keep Middlebury’s economy as sound as possible (in the form of tax incentives or any short-term help that might boost a company through tough times.)
That is not to discourage the committee from proposing what it thinks the town’s fire department needs to meet its most basic needs and include plans that could provide for future savings, but it does suggest a need to be as frugal as possible and limit any bells and whistles that might seem superfluous. The last thing town officials want to create is the feeling among residents that public buildings are being built to any lavish extent, particularly when many businesses paying those taxes haven’t seen similar upgrades in their facilities because of their own efforts to be frugal and fiscally responsible.
Angelo S. Lynn

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