Middlebury mulls $6M-10M town hall

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard met on Tuesday to discuss progress in designing new municipal offices and a community center for the town of Middlebury. The vision for the project has been more defined since the board’s last meeting in November but plans still remain tentative because the board members said they want to involve the public more before moving ahead with the project.
First on the agenda was highlighting what the board sees as the importance of a town office building at a cost ranging from $6 to $10 million and a size between 16,000 and 19,000 square feet.
Selectboard members believe that the building should be representative of the whole community and welcome residents and visitors, and do not believe the current building serves this vital function.
“It’s a 100-year-old building with 100-year-old standards,” said Town Manager Bill Finger to open the meeting. “The building is an energy hog and an eyesore.”
Presently, the town office building and attached gymnasium have structural problems and are expensive to operate due to structural inefficiencies. Examples of the building’s decaying stairs, water damage, and unsealed doors were shown at the meeting.
Officials also said that the current building’s status is not representing Middlebury in a positive light or serving residents well.
A new design would help to revitalize the important site, according to project architect Andrea Murray.
 “There are a series of prominent buildings in this town that say something important,” said Murray. “This site is one of those very prominent sites, a place where we can build a building that we are very proud of.” 
Murray spoke of the importance of the building’s location and the possibilities of this site, noting because it is highly visible from all sides it could be a true community center. Additionally, it receives many hours of sunlight that could be used to help make the building energy-efficient.
The critical placement of the site in addition to the hefty structural problems have inspired the selectboard and the project’s architects to design what they call an environmentally friendly building that will show the importance of sustainability in Middlebury.
The plan features what they called cutting-edge technology in sustainable building, and officials also emphasized they wanted to keep construction and materials of the building local.
Murray and architect Ashar Nelson also came up with a conceptual plan that will include two buildings to be connected by an open public plaza. Among many things, the new building will include a new gymnasium, a visitor center, and public restrooms.
The high cost of the plans is a concern for the board. Chairman Dean George said he is excited about the possibility of a new center, but hopes that they can find other resources to support its hefty cost in addition to taxpayer dollars.
“I hope we can find a way to pay without paying an undue burden,” George said.
Options such as using the existing frame of the building was discussed to cut costs, but Murray and Nelson came to the conclusion that this would be more difficult and costly than constructing a new building.
The board also discussed establishing specific task forces to move the project along. Task forces to handle relocation of offices, energy efficiency, and funding will all be created, and officials hope to recruit members of the public to work on those task forces.
While there is currently no set schedule for a new building, officials said small steps can be taken in the meantime to get the project under way and start cutting costs, including replacing the boiler and updating the electrical system. 
While the schematic design phase of the project is nearing its end, there is a long way to go before possible project approval and construction. Middlebury selectboard members said they hope through this long and costly process the quality of life for town residents will be improved.
 “What we envision creating is a community center that is representative of the entire community and that is used and loved by the community,” said Selectman Nick Artim.
The board will meet next Tuesday to discuss how to involve the Middlebury community in the process.
Contact Lauren Davidson at [email protected].

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