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Middlebury officials begin effort to create new building

MIDDLEBURY — In addition to setting a municipal tax rate, Middlebury selectmen at their meeting Tuesday took two steps toward bringing a proposed $7.5 million plan to relocate the town offices to a new building a reality.
Earlier this month, Middlebury College pledged $5.5 million toward a $7.5 million plan that would result in a new downtown municipal building located next to the Ilsley Library and a new gym that would be located near the Memorial Sports Center off Mary Hogan Drive. In return for its pledge the college would receive the current Middlebury municipal building site at the intersection of College and South Main streets, which would be cleared and maintained as a public park.
At their Tuesday evening meeting, the Middlebury selectboard OK’d a motion to seek formal requests for qualifications to find a company to assist with the design/build stage of planning the project. The motion was approved 5-2, with Selectmen Travis Forbes and Craig Bingham dissenting.
Bingham pointed out that changes to the town offices had been solidly defeated twice in past decades.
“I believe that the voters have made their intent very clear,” Bingham said. “If you can show me there’s been a big change in the electorate, I’ll get on board.”
Selectboard Chair Dean George noted that while he had been a selectman during the failed town office proposals in the past, he said he “couldn’t believe the support” he’d heard for the more recent plan.
“This is a chance to get something done,” George said.
The next step will be to go to the townspeople in the fall to approve a bond for the construction of the new municipal building and the new recreation center. The project is predicted to cost around $7.5 million, $6.5 million of which will be construction costs. Middlebury College has agreed to foot $5.5 million of the bill in debt services. The committee is now working on a proposal to bring to voters.
Members of the public who were in attendance requested that the public be involved in the ongoing discussion; board members said that public input would be welcomed at many points in the process.
The first opportunity for comment will be at the selectboard meeting on July 9, which has been rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. (from its usual 7 p.m. start time) to accommodate people who would like to attend the popular Festival on-the-Green at 7 p.m. that same day.
Selectman Victor Nuovo said one of the next steps for the committee will be a request for qualifications for design and construction companies and consortiums. This request would not mean asking for bids, but just seeing which companies would be able to do the job.
Forbes said he disagreed with the “design/build” model the town had utilized for other recent public works projects like the fire station and the Cross Street Bridge, because the companies then hired outside labor instead of local contractors. Forbes favored hiring an architect then bidding the design out to several local building companies.
Board members said that even if the same company did design and construction, the town could choose to stipulate that local labor be used.
The second item from the committee, which expanded the committee to 13 members, passed unanimously. The new members, as per the committee’s recommendation, are Ilsley Public Library Director Kevin Unrath, town Parks and Recreation Director Terri Arnold, and Middlebury College official David Donahue.
“There is a lot of work coming but this is a logical sequence,” said Selectman Nick Artim.

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