Middlebury considers repairs to town gym

MIDDLEBURY — Members of an ad hoc study committee will tour Middlebury’s municipal gym on Sept. 6 to size up a list of needed repairs that could be presented to voters as soon as next spring.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger has already identified a very rough list of $575,000 in upgrades that he said should be made to the gym building to keep it weather-tight, functional and presentable to a public that uses it quite actively. Current plans call for the gym to be retained and improved in concert with a new municipal building/community center that would be built on the site of the current town offices at the intersection of College and South Main streets.
Some town officials believe the public’s support or rejection of gym improvements will speak volumes about the chances of a future referendum on a new municipal building/community center.
“It will be the deciding point on whether the town wants a facility of not,” Finger told fellow members of the Municipal Gymnasium Task Force on Monday. “The gym vote could be kind of, ‘We’re going to do something more here, too.’”
The municipal gym is currently connected to the town offices. It hosts a variety of activities throughout the year, including pick-up basketball, volleyball, exercise classes and, of course, the annual town meeting. The lower level of the gym hosts, among other things, the Russ Sholes Senior Center and the Addison Central Teens clubhouse. The municipal complex’s antiquated boiler system is also located in the gym building.
Built in 1939, the gym has fallen into some disrepair. In an effort to limit pressure on property taxpayers, town officials have parsed out repairs to the building. Finger outlined a combined total of $87,000 in upgrades made to the gym during the past decade, including a new membrane roof, a new fire alarm system, and conversion of the facility’s light fixtures to more energy-efficient varieties.
Improvements scheduled for this year include repointing brick masonry — particularly around the entryways and exits — and repairing or rebuilding the stairs at the College Street entrance of the building. Once this work is complete, Finger said the town should consider a 2013 project of around $575,000 in renovations that would include:
•  Replacing all 10 of the large gym windows with energy efficient, low-maintenance models that “replicate as closely as possible the design and divisions of the existing windows.” All other windows in the structure would also be replaced with more energy-efficient models.
•  Rehabbing or replacing the double doors at the west entrance of the building that have been closed since 2010, when the related outdoor stairs were removed to allow for construction of Academy Street.
•  Installing a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
•  Installing a security/access control system with two main entrances/exits. The other doors would be maintained as alarmed emergency exits.
•  Putting in basic men’s and women’s changing rooms, showers and toilets in what is now the girls’ locker room on the lower level.
•  Removing all the old bleachers and installing new, code-compliant bleachers on one side the gym only. The other side could then be equipped with storage space, according to Finger.
It’s a project list that will be a work in progress during the coming months, according to gym task force members, whose ranks include Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Malcolm, Selectman Nick Artim, Town Planner Fred Dunnington, Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay and Andrea Murray of Vermont Integrated Architecture, the local company that is helping design a new municipal building/community center.
Murray suggested that proposed upgrades be sorted into three distinct categories: Deferred maintenance, basic improvements and wish-list items.
Artim, who travels throughout the country recommending fire protection systems for historic buildings, said the town should take a measured approach.
“The first thing to do is clearly define then nature of the problems,” Artim said. “To get to the problems, you go through (the building) with a fine-tooth comb.”
At that point, Artim said, the town should come up with a ranked priority list that could either be done at once or in phases, depending on available resources.
Committee members said they will look for outside resources to help underwrite the cost of gym renovations. For example, they will enlist the help of the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation, which will undoubtedly want a voice in how the 73-year-old structure is renovated. Tearing down the municipal building and removing the debris would cost an estimated $300,000 and would draw criticism from Historic Preservation officials, committee members acknowledged.
Committee members, with the possible aid of a mechanical engineer, will inspect the municipal gym during a walk-through at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6. In the meantime, the committee will get a specific schedule of how actively the gym is used each week. Such a list, officials said, could reinforce the value of the gym as a community asset. And that is a point that needs to be reinforced among some residents, according to the responses from a survey the town circulated in 2002 after a combined town office/police department bond vote was defeated. While some respondents said the gym should be improved and maintained, others, Finger noted, said they believed it was a superfluous amenity because the community already has three school gyms.
And committee members know that taxpayers will closely measure a municipal gym repair plan against the prevailing economy.
“People are eager to save on energy (expenses related to the gym), but they are more eager to save on their taxes at this point,” Finger said. 

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