Community Forum: Imagining new town office, gym

This week’s writer is Victor Nuovo, Middlebury College professor emeritus of philosophy and a Middlebury selectman.
Recent discussions about the proposed town offices/recreational facility project have convinced me of the need to present a broader vision of what might be achieved for the town by building a new town hall adjacent to the Ilsley Library and a new gym in the recreation park. What follows is necessarily a personal statement, for we each have our own visions. I offer this one in the hope that others may find it attractive enough to embrace it as their own; I invite others to share their visions on these pages. My vision involves physical things like buildings and people moving in and about them, but it also includes programs that enhance civic and community life, without which these buildings would have no purpose except perhaps to be gaped at as one does at the ruins of an ancient city.
I imagine, then, a new town hall extending south from a redesigned pedestrian passageway that links the parking lot behind the library to Main Street. It will have only three sides or faces and no backside. The east face will be in full view to anyone heading west on Cross Street Bridge — a prospect, which, if rightly designed and well situated, could become part of one of the most memorable prospects in town; the north side will face the Ilsley library, and there will be convenient access, perhaps a portico, between them. The west face will run south and follow the curve at the intersection of Cross and Main streets until it meets the east face of the building. Whilst this new town hall will stand alone, in terms of its integrity and beauty and a dignity proper to the seat of our civil government, which was founded over 250 years ago, it will also complement and highlight iconic features of the Ilsley Library; its situation and design will not restrict possible future expansion of the library but in some ways anticipate it. This new town hall will house all the current town departments, with the exception of the recreation department, which will move to a new and different site. It will also contain meeting rooms for town boards and committees. The meeting rooms will be available also for library programs and other public meetings. Finally, I imagine that just within the north entrance of the new town hall, opposite the library, there will be public restrooms, which will remain accessible after business hours and on weekends.
People will come and go here to conduct all the business that they now transact in our current town offices. But I imagine something more: a marriage between the library and the town hall, which may be reflected physically in how the buildings are connected and the availability of space in the new town hall for regular or occasional library use, for example, common staff space for town and library personnel. This is proper at the very least for the library is a town department, although it has an independent board. I foresee more resulting from a deeper common appreciation of what all the departments do, frequent interaction between their staffs, mutual respect and support, and a fertile seedbed for creative adventures.
The new gym will be functional and welcoming and will serve the recreational needs of the whole community from preschool through seniors. It will be the principal center of the town’s recreational program, which thanks to our parks and recreation director and an energetic and wonderfully resourceful recreation committee, will mean a giant step forward for the town; it will enable a more complete and better integrated use of the recreation park. Recreation, after all, is what we do when we’re not working or sleeping. And the prospect of more creative programs that make possible the good use of our leisure time, engaging with other people, new and old friends, toning up our bodies and our minds, making them fit and happy. ‘Sana mens in corpore sano’ (“a sound mind in a healthy body”) is a bit of ancient wisdom that will always apply as long as there is life. Finally, the new gym will serve as an emergency shelter and will be fitted out accordingly.
Situating the new gym in the recreation park will allow the coordination of many programs that may now seem disconnected, it will enhance the recreation park and make us all more conscious of its possibilities. This location will also facilitate cooperation and common planning with Mary Hogan School, which owns the property in which the park is located, and which the town has use of under a 99-year lease. The school has a contractual right to use town recreational facilities, including the gym, which now will be nearer and reachable by a safer route. It is also a perfect opportunity to consider a remaking of the Kidspace that the Mary Hogan School maintains in a location contiguous to the recreation park and financing it through cooperative creative funding that would not burden the taxpayer.
Both buildings will be energy efficient, and as green as we can make them. They will be fully handicap accessible. And they will be built to last.
If the town approves this plan, all of this and more can be accomplished at a real debt to the town of $2 million. By “real debt” I mean the amount of debt that the town must service from its own revenues. That the town’s real debt will be only $2 million and not $7.5 million is possible because the college will contribute $5.5 million in cash and debt service to pay for the project.
But there is more: There will be a new town park on the current site of the town offices and gym. It will be a public place or commons conveniently located and with ample parking, for all the parking now there will remain; it will be a well-designed place of leisure, with winding paths, natural gardens, trees, perhaps a gazebo or a pergola or works of art, a place in the evening where families may gather to consume their creemees and listen to an impromptu concert. This new park will be less an approach to the college more a place that expresses the long and deep bond between the town and the college, for the town gave birth to the college, nourished it and gave it its name. The college’s role in this endeavor is a fitting tribute to this association.

Share this story:

More News
US Probation Office Uncategorized

US Probation Office Request for Proposals

US Probation Office 2×1.5 062024 RFP

Middlebury American Legion Uncategorized

Middlebury American Legion Annual Meeting

Middlebury American Legion 062024 1×1.5 Annual Meeting

Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Share this story: