Committee aims to plug leaks in municipal building

MIDDLEBURY — A vision for Middlebury’s new municipal building currently exists as rough lines on paper, but town officials are hoping local residents will spend the coming months filling in those lines with a fully defined project that could be ready for construction by the spring of 2013.
An ad hoc committee, flanked by Ashar Nelson and Andrea Murray of Vermont Integrated Architects, on Tuesday showed the selectboard their progress to date on the notion of establishing new town offices, a refurbished gym and community center at the site of the current town offices at the intersection of College and South Main streets.
The project, committee members said, is being driven by a current 100-year-old municipal building and gym that are both deteriorating and costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in lost heat and deferred maintenance.
Not addressing the problem, according to committee member and Selectman Victor Nuovo, “places a burden on the next generation in town. It would be irresponsible for us not to do something now.”
Selectman Nick Artim, also a member of the committee, showed pictures of the municipal building’s current deficiencies and shortcomings. They include cracks in the structural foundation; degrading brick mortar; exposed external wiring and cables; a lack of access for disabled visitors; cracks in entrance staircases; missing ceiling tiles, including a collapsed ceiling in the basement; the complete lack of a fire-suppression sprinkler system; outdated electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems; inadequate insulation; energy-inefficient, single-pane windows; and an antiquated, steam-heat system that does not heat the building evenly.
Selectboard Chairman John Tenny compared the current wasted money on heat to piling money on top of a table and burning it. He estimated $30,000 of the current wasted heating costs could be better invested in a new or repaired town office building.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger noted the town spent $27,130 to heat the town offices and gym in 2009-2010, paying $2.03 per gallon for 13,364 gallons of fuel. That figure shot up by 49 percent to $40,500 in 2010-2011 (16,946 gallons at $2.39 per gallon, and is forecast to jump to $45,750 this winter (15,000 gallons at $3.05 per gallon).
“In two years, we have seen a 69-percent jump in the cost of fuel use for this building,” Artim said.
Committee members said the town is faced with four basic choices — doing nothing, upgrading the existing building, renovating and expanding the building, or erecting a new structure and improving the gym.
Middlebury officials agree the town cannot afford to do nothing. That said, they vowed to work with architects and the community to determine what taxpayers could support and afford in what is a challenging economy with other major capital outlays already looming. Those potential outlays include a proposed $4.8-million makeover of the Middlebury fire stations (with a vote set for next March) and a share of the costs for a new roof for Middlebury Union Middle School.
Murray and Nelson showed the selectboard two potential building sketches for the current site. One shows a new building with two distinct wings, laid out in “jackknife” fashion. The other shows a structure that would incorporate historical and utilitarian elements of the current municipal building — such as the brick façade fronting the Main Street roundabout.
Both plans would emphasize south facing windows to maximize exposure to sunlight and make the building as energy efficient as possible. Both scenarios would eliminate the connector between the gym and municipal building, allowing for a plaza and grand stairway leading to both structures.
Other features being considered in the construction: a visitor’s center, public meeting rooms and a “smart technology conference room” providing telecommunications opportunities for small companies that can’t afford such equipment. These features, officials said, are aimed at making the municipal complex more inviting and better used. Plans also call for space for the Middlebury Area Land Trust, the Better Middlebury Partnership, Addison Central Teens and the Russ Sholes Senior Center. The latter two entities are already based within the municipal building.
Nelson and Murray said they believe a new municipal building need only be around 2,500 square feet larger than the current 14,279 square feet in order to meet the town’s needs. That’s because the basement of the current building is not fit for workers and is largely used for storage, whereas a new structure would allow for productive use of all floors, according to Nelson.
Architects have yet to assign prices to either building scenario, though they acknowledged new construction would cost “slightly more” than renovation and expansion of current facilities.
Town officials are hoping to get good feedback from residents, beginning at a meeting slated for Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in the municipal gym. The committee has mapped out a preliminary timetable that would call for an August 2012 vote to proceed with full design services, followed by a bond vote for a project in March 2013. Construction could then begin in April of 2013 and conclude during the spring of 2014.
“It’s all very tentative,” Finger said. “We want to keep people as informed as possible.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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