College plans $46 million replacement for ‘Bubble’

MIDDLEBURY — After almost a decade in a temporary structure, the Middlebury College Field House will get a permanent home. The field house has been housed in an inflatable dome — the “Bubble” — off South Main Street since 2003, but last weekend the college board of trustees gave the green light for a permanent replacement.
Middlebury College officials this week stressed the $46 million project will be integrated both with the campus community and the Master Plan, a 50-year planning document that lays out the college’s development roadmap.
“We’re very conscious of making it accessible to the whole community,” said Vice President for Administration Tim Spears. “At this stage in the design we were concerned about the scale of the building, making it fit in well with the surroundings.”
He said plans for the new field house are still in process, but they will entail re-engineering parking, walking paths, and the entryway. Town Planner Fred Dunnington also cited parking and lighting as specific issues likely to arise during permitting for the new building. The college and town have had an agreement to remove the Bubble by 2016, he noted.
“The college has talked about replacing the Bubble since the outset,” Dunnington said. “It was proposed as a temporary facility.”
The college trustees’ decision last weekend authorized two architectural firms — Sasaki Associates and Architectural Resources of Cambridge, Mass. — to finalize plans for the project. And, though the details of the project remain largely uncertain, the project is set to be finished in 2014. By then, the college plans to complete architectural drawings, file the necessary town permitting, hire contractors, and build the facility.
The new field house is part of the college’s Master Plan, which covers everything from dorms to dining halls and squash courts. In addition to the replacement field house, the Master Plan also proposes an expansion of the fitness center, new outdoor tennis courts, and renovations to the golf course.
“The Master Plan was accepted by the town in June of 2009 as a planned unit development,” Dunnington said. “As specific projects come up we review them separately.”
“The system is a formalized conversation,” Dunnington said. “The college says ‘Here’s what we’re thinking,’ and the town comments on that. It’s a good way to give early guidance so the town can modify its applications, and it gives a degree of comfort to the people who live in Middlebury.”
In addition to local approval, the college will need a permit under Act 250, the state law governing major developments.
“We’ll have a much more specific report in May,” Spears said. “This is still a very preliminary phase of the project, but everything that we’ve seen so far encourages us that we’re moving in the right direction.”

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