Two votes eyed for Middlebury fire stations

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters this fall will see the first of two votes on a major fix-up of the local fire department’s two firehouses.
Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) officials last month unveiled a $5.2 million plan to replace their East Middlebury fire station and expand and renovate their Seymour Street headquarters. Officials at the time proposed a bond referendum for Town Meeting Day in March 2012.
But municipal and fire department leaders have now decided on a three-step process that they believe will lead to a more educated voting public and a more refined proposal for the final bond referendum. That process calls for approximately $30,000 to be spent in the short term for preliminary design work and to educate the public leading up to the vote; a townwide vote — perhaps in September — for roughly $250,000 to pay for architectural planning and engineering work to essentially make the project(s) shovel-ready; and a final bond referendum, as scheduled, on Town Meeting Day next March.
The final bond request will be adjusted downward to reflect the $250,000 to be sought this fall. The $30,000 will be culled from within the town’s capital budget and will be replenished with some of the funds from the $250,000 request.
“We have broken this down into more reasonable steps,” said selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
“We would like to do this in an orderly program so people can see what (the fire department) is doing and feel well served … and approve the project.”
Middlebury Fire Department Assistant Chief David Shaw last week told the selectboard the new timetable would ensure a prompt start to the project next spring, thereby avoiding the hassles of winter construction. Shaw estimated the town would save more than $250,000 by avoiding winter-related costs and by not having to wait until later in the construction season, when building costs could be higher.
“It sounds like an aggressive schedule, and it is,” Shaw said.
The MVFD project calls 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 would require the fire department to purchase a small chunk of land from the neighboring Middlebury Community House and remove a small yellow cottage from the property.
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.
Plans also call for 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, a small bathroom and a 280-square-foot storage facility for the local fire district.
Middlebury Selectman Nick Artim said the proposed fall vote for $250,000 makes good sense as a “bridge” to the March bond vote.
“Once the professional designs are done, we will have a really tight grasp of what the (project) is going to cost,” Artim said.
Meanwhile, MVFD leaders and Middlebury Community House stewards have begun informal discussions about land acquisition for the Seymour Street addition.
“I think we’re really close,” MVFD Lt. Pat Shaw said of an agreement on a price for the land. Trustees have been looking for revenues to help keep the historic Community House structurally sound, and a sale of some property to the MVFD would help in that regard.
Town officials have drafted a memo of understanding they hope to sign with Community House trustees to preserve the MVFD’s option to buy the land if the March bond passes.
“If the property goes away, this whole project goes away, so we need this agreement,” Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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