Town hall concept gets nod
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously endorsed the concept of removing the current municipal building at the intersection of College and South Main streets and replacing it with a more efficient structure that will include town offices and a community center.
The board also agreed that the town should keep, and upgrade, the adjoining municipal gym, a popular recreation and meeting space that is in need of repairs and energy efficiency improvements. Tuesday’s vote of confidence for the gym is seen as a precursor to some short-term financial investments in that building, a commitment that past selectboards have been reluctant to make given the structure’s murky future.
“We can do repairs to the gym with a sense or permanence, so we do it right,” said Selectman Nick Artim, a leader of the Community Center Study Committee (CCSC).
Officials made these decisions exactly one week after hearing a presentation from architects and a study committee on the current municipal building’s shortcomings and possible solutions.
Shortcomings include poorly configured space; 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ceiling tiles, including a collapsed ceiling in the basement; the complete lack of a fire-suppression sprinkler system; outdated electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems; inadequate insulation; energy-inefficient, single-pane windows; and an antiquated, steam-heat system that does not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.
The CCSC has been working in concert with Ashar Nelson and Andrea Murray of Vermont Integrated Architecture to sort out what to do with the 100-year-old municipal building. The team revealed on June 19 that new town offices and a community center could cost $6 million to $10 million, depending on the scope and extent of the project. Officials said it would cost more to renovate or try to weave some of the existing structure into a new project, rather than building completely new.
Nelson and Murray have presented plans for a new building of 16,200-19,000 square feet that would house municipal offices, public meeting spaces, a visitors’ center and the nonprofit occupants of the current building, including the local teen center and senior center, along with other amenities. The space could also accommodate some additional organizations, such as the Better Middlebury Partnership.
Also featured in the plan is an outdoor plaza with access to the gym.
Officials said there is no firm timetable at this point for finalizing a plan for a public vote. The next steps, according to selectboard members, will likely include:
•Establishing subcommittees that will look into possible financing for the new facility, energy efficiency features and where to house municipal offices while a new building is under construction. Officials are particularly sensitive to the potential cost of the project and the need to find creative ways to finance it (rather than exclusively through the property tax). The town will likely pursue some grants, including through Efficiency Vermont, to lessen the burden on taxpayers.
“This is not a grandiose project,” said Selectman Victor Nuovo, also a member of the CCSC.
“This is a building intended to last 200 years,” he added. “That doesn’t mean it has to be excessively expensive.”
•Preparing a list of responses to “frequently asked questions” about the project, and posting those responses — along with related content — on the town website (www.middlebury.govoffice.com).
“It behooves us to make this a more public process,” said selectboard Chairman Dean George of the effort to garner support.
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