Middlebury selectmen mull cheaper town office building

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday heard a suggestion from its town office steering committee that town officials might want to aim a little lower in designing a municipal office building.
The board also talked about capping taxpayers’ contribution to funding a new building at a 2-cent increase to the Middlebury’s tax rate, which officials said would raise about $2 million toward its cost over the length of a bond.   
Selectmen and steering committee member Victor Nuovo reported to the board on Tuesday about the committee’s meeting earlier in the day, at which the committee also discussed a lower-cost approach to the town gym.
Nuovo asked the selectboard on behalf of the committee “if the selectboard preferred it, the committee would pursue a more minimalist approach” to what would be a freestanding office building closer to the new roundabout.
Nuovo said the committee members thought $4 million might be a figure “the town could conceivably afford” rather than the more than $6 million that the selectboard has been discussing.
The committee members said that could be adequate for office and meeting space, but shouldn’t mean an unattractive end product, he said.
“We are also insistent the building be iconic,” Nuovo said. “That shouldn’t translate into excessive cost.”
The first reaction to Nuovo’s summary came from Selectwoman Susan Shashok.
“Yes,” she said, to general laughter, before adding, “I’ve been of that mind from the get-go, so yes, please.”
Chairman Dean George said it had been “a goal from the start” to build a new town office building with as little impact on the tax rate as possible. But he cautioned that until town officials had a better idea what could be raised through government and foundations grants they should not sell the idea of a better building short, using the $2 million from higher taxes as a base.
“My thinking is if can get to between $5 and $6 million we can get to … the best-case scenario,” George said.
Nuovo and Selectman Nick Artim outlined officials’ latest thinking on the town gym, which will also be a freestanding structure.
Both said about $500,000 could take care of the building’s deferred maintenance, some of which is the result of the selectboard’s hesitance to invest in the structure while its future was uncertain.
Artim said overall the building was in “pretty good structural shape,” but that its heating system was “approaching the end of its life” and it needed work on its electrical system, exterior railings, interior and exterior doors, windows, floorings and walls, and other items to bring the building up to code.
Nuovo said that work would preserve a valuable asset.
“We really have to go back to … fitting it up as a building that right now is very useful,” he said.
The committee had discussed retrofitting the building with upgrades or expanding it before settling on the least expensive tactic, they said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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