Middlebury refines fire station design

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Fire Department and Bread Loaf Corp. architects have put the last major touches on the design of a renovated and expanded Seymour Street fire station that will be put to the voters at Town Meeting Day in March as part of a $4.8 million bond issue.
The most dramatic design change, influenced by local residents and members of the Middlebury Design Advisory Committee, is the relocation of the new elevator shaft from the building’s exterior to its interior.
It’s a switch that members of the Middlebury Fire Station Committee have welcomed, saying that it has helped reduce some costs, should make for a more spacious entryway and dispatch center, and would improve the building’s appearance as viewed from Seymour Street.
“We wanted to keep some of the historical look of that building, so that you can actually define the 1932 and 1978 (sections of the structure),” said Middlebury Fire Station Committee Chairman Pat Shaw, also a department lieutenant.
Chris Huston, architecture operations manager for Bread Loaf, noted shifting the elevator allows the building to keep two lounge windows and offer a clearly defined entrance.
There is also more room for the department’s training tower — a column along the front of the building in which firefighters will be able to perform exercises replicating how they would have to climb and access multi-story buildings during fires.
“We were trying to be very sympathetic to the existing building, creating a harmony,” Huston said of the aesthetic aspects of the now final design.
Official said they did not lose a lot of interior space by moving the elevator shaft inside. And doing so will be cost-effective, officials said, because it will be lodged between two existing concrete-bearing walls.
These latest plans are the culmination of work done by Bread Loaf and the fire station committee since Middlebury voters OK’d an initial $250,000 bond vote for the project in September. That bond paid for final design and engineering work for a major overhaul of both the Seymour Street and East Middlebury fire stations.
“All the big pieces are in place, said Peter Brakeley,” a citizen representative on the committee.
The Seymour Street station is currently not accessible to people with disabilities, has poorly configured interior space, has no fire suppression system, has overhead doors that barely accommodate firetrucks, and has an inadequate number of bays.
Plans call for these issues to be remedied by a two-story, 8,100-square-foot addition containing four large truck bays, installation of a sprinkler system and elevator, and completion of interior renovations and better insulation to optimize the building’s use and make it more energy efficient.
The town has an agreement to purchase land from the neighboring Middlebury Community House to make the southwest addition possible.
The project also calls for the deteriorating, 3,300-square-foot East Middlebury station to be replaced with a new, wood-framed, single-story structure that will feature two bays and storage room.
Firefighters are planning additional public meetings about the project in late January or early February, along with a Middlebury Community Television documentary and a mass-mailed flyer to explain details.
In the meantime, firefighters are concerned that people not confuse the fire station project with the discussion among town officials about replacing the current municipal offices. The selectboard has started talking about the need for a new town office building — perhaps as soon as 2013 — because the current structure is an energy hog; has deficient plumbing, electrical and heating systems; and is poorly configured for conducting town business.
The selectboard on Tuesday reiterated its support for the fire stations bond, and announced the municipal building needs would not be discussed at town meeting in order to remove any confusion about the proposals.
“I think the committee was concerned that we were asking a lot out of the taxpayers to, before we had even voted on one facility, we were starting to present another town facility,” Brakeley said. “We thought, ‘Let’s focus on one at a time.’”
Selectboard members said that while it is their responsibility to simultaneously plan for the community’s many needs, there is no mystery about which project they want to advance at this time.
“We want to make it clear that we strongly support this project and it is our first and foremost priority,” Selectman Nick Artim said of the fire stations bond.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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