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Fire station project costs reduced; cottage might be saved

MIDDLEBURY — Officials planning a major makeover of Middlebury Fire Department facilities have shaved more than $400,000 from the most recent $5.2 million estimate for the project.
That savings is derived in part from eliminating a proposed paved driveway on the southern side of the site that would have extended from Seymour Street to parking at the rear of the station.
“There will still be ample parking in the back, but that will be accessed from the north instead of the south,” explained Middlebury Fire Department Assistant Chief David Shaw.
Economics is just one reason the driveway was deleted from the project, officials noted. The driveway would have required the adjacent Middlebury Community House to part with more land than trustees originally had envisioned, as revealed in a new survey of the property. The fire department has been negotiating with community house trustees to buy less than an acre of land to allow for an 8,100-square-foot, four-bay addition onto the southern end of the Seymour Street station.
The project — put together by a fire station planning committee working in concert with Bread Loaf Corp. — also includes renovations to the 1932 and 1978 sections of the Seymour Street station to make it more user-friendly, better insulated and more accessible to the public.
Plans also provide for demolition of the current East Middlebury station, and replacement with a basic, 2,000-square-foot, wood-frame building that would feature two bays.
The latest fine-tuning of the project brings the cost-estimate down to $4.8 million. And Shaw said further reductions might be possible before the plan is put to local voters through two votes — one this fall, seeking money for final architectural drawings and planning; and a second next March on a bond referendum for actual construction costs.
“We started out at $6.1 million,” Shaw said, noting the extent to which planners have sharpened their pencils during the past few months.
“Our goal has been to get the best package for the least amount of money, and we are looking at every avenue to do that.”
It appears other savings are in the offing — specifically, the saving of a 50-year-old cottage on the community house property. Officials had originally anticipated having to raze the cottage to make way for the fire station addition. But planners are now exploring the possibility of salvaging the single-story cottage for relocation and re-use, perhaps as affordable housing.
“It has a secure structure so that it could be set up on another foundation,” said Lynda Rheaume, president of the Middlebury Community House board of trustees. “It would definitely need to be rehabbed. But it could definitely be used.”
Rheaume explained the cottage was built during the 1960s to provide overflow space for various community meetings that could not be accommodated at the community house.
“It has been very handy,” Rheaume said of the cottage, which is still actively used to this day. It includes a large meeting room, bathroom and kitchen.
Community house trustees acknowledged that some meetings would be displaced by the impending loss of the cottage. But Rheaume and her colleagues are anticipating improvements to the community house that would enable the historic structure to host more gatherings to fill the cottage void.
Such improvements would be funded in part through interest from the community house’s endowment fund, which has dropped below $400,000. Proceeds from the sale of the cottage property to the fire department would sweeten the endowment fund and pave the way for more repairs, Rheaume noted.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger is optimistic the community house and fire department will end up with a deal for the property.
“We’re pretty close,” Finger said. “I don’t think there will be any argument.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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