Middlebury approves fire station proposal

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Tuesday voted 146-78 in favor of a $250,000 bond issue that will pay for final design and engineering work for a proposed major overhaul of the Seymour Street and East Middlebury fire stations.
Tuesday’s successful vote was a precursor to what will be a final, $4.625 million bond referendum for the project, which would result in a new fire station in East Middlebury and a substantial expansion/renovation of the department’s Seymour Street headquarters.
“We’re ecstatic,” Middlebury Fire Department Lt. Pat Shaw said after the votes had been tallied.
“We have some more meetings and a lot of hard work left to do, but it will be worth it.”
Shaw is chairman of the Middlebury Fire Station Study Committee, now in its 23rd month of work on a solution for the department’s well-documented space needs. The committee presented its plans to the public most recently at a special town meeting Monday night.
Chris Huston, a Bread Loaf Corp. official who has been working with the committee on the project design, explained that there is a “sea of wood columns” in the basement helping to support the equipment-bearing floor in the oldest (1932) portion of the Seymour Street station. Clearance is so tight with the current bay openings that firefighters have to shovel even an inch of snow outside in order to pull out the department’s ladder truck. It is a station that, he added, is not accessible to people with disabilities, has poorly configured interior space and has no fire suppression system.
Plans call for these issues to be remedied by a two-story, 8,100-square-foot addition with four large truck bays, installation of a sprinkler system and elevator, and completion of interior renovations and better insulation to optimize the building’s usefulness and make it more energy efficient.
The town has an agreement to purchase some land from the neighboring Middlebury Community House to make the southwest addition possible. Committee members explained that dorms could be built atop the addition if the department ever transitions to full-time firefighters.
The project would also solve the East Middlebury station’s shortcomings, according to the committee. The current station has fallen into disrepair, with noticeable erosion in the building’s foundation blocks and on its roof. The firehouse’s interior floor slab is cracking, and the 3,300-square-foot station costs almost as much to heat each year as the 12,000-square-foot Seymour Street station.
Plans call for the East Middlebury building to be replaced with a new, wood-framed, single-story structure that will feature two bays and some storage room.
Several people weighed in on the fire stations project on Monday. Among them was resident Laura Asermily, who voiced some concerns about the impact of the project on local taxpayers — when added to other capital improvements residents are being asked to support — as well as the inclusion of an elevator in the Seymour Street project. She also urged the committee to make the buildings as energy efficient as possible.
Huston explained that the elevator is required by state code because the public building must be made accessible to all. He added the energy efficiency elements of the project would be added during the final design and engineering phase.
Resident and Town Clerk Ann Webster asked whether the project had been designed to ensure that it would meet the department’s long-term needs. Fire officials replied that the improvements have been designed to carry the department for at least another 20 years. Shaw noted the 14-foot-by-14-foot bay doors will ensure the buildings will be able to house the next generation of firetrucks.
With the $250,000 bond now approved, firefighters will work with Bread Loaf to carry the project to final design in hopes of getting another positive vote on Town Meeting Day. A “yes” vote would allow construction to start in May of 2012, with estimated completion of both projects by February of 2013.
“This was a key vote to keep things moving,” Shaw said of Tuesday’s results. “We can’t thank the taxpayers enough for what they are saying to us.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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