Comparing the cost of new Middlebury town offices vs. renovation

MIDDLEBURY — Bread Loaf Corp. this week provided estimates that compare the cost of building the new Middlebury town offices and town gym on new sites vs. renovating or reconstructing the existing municipal building and gym at the corner of South Main and College streets.
The estimates, presented by Bread Loaf project architect Chris Huston to the Middlebury Town Office and Recreation Steering Committee on Tuesday, show that the total cost of the two new buildings would be slightly higher.
But the cost to Middlebury taxpayers would be one-third as much as keeping the current site because Middlebury College would pay $5.5 million for the property on which the town office/gym sits.
The Middlebury selectboard and the committee first floated a plan last June that calls for the town offices and gym to be removed from the current site, which would be conveyed (along with a town-owned lot on Cross Street) to Middlebury College in exchange for $5.5 million. They have been honing it since.
The town would use $1 million of that money to relocate the college’s Osborne House from 77 Main St. to the Cross Street parcel, and to raze and remove the municipal building. The remaining $4.5 million would be applied to construction of new town offices at 77 Main and the gym at the former American Legion headquarters site off Creek Road.
Selectboard members set a goal of limiting local taxpayers’ liability for the projects to $2 million. Some residents have suggested the town might be able to renovate its current facilities on site for around the same amount.
Huston’s latest estimate put the projected cost of constructing the new town office and gym at $6.5 million, which, after subtracting the $4.5 million from the college, would leave the cost to the town at $2 million.
That project would result in an additional 2 cents on the municipal property tax rate. For a $200,000 home the result would be an increased tax bill of $40 a year over the course of a 20-year-bond.
His numbers put the cost of doing “basic” renovations on site (what Huston called a “gut renovation”) at $6 million. Without money from the college this would result in a 6-cent increase in the tax rate, or $120 a year in higher taxes for the hypothetical homeowner.
A third estimate looked at the cost of rehabbing the current gym but demolishing the town offices and building a new structure on site similar to what is proposed for 77 Main. He put the price tag for that at $6.4 million, resulting in a 6.5-cent bump in the tax rate and a $130 higher tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home.
Both estimates for rebuilding on site include the cost of renting offices during construction.
A committee member, Lucy Schumer, pointed out that the supposed cost of the new facilities only looked at impact on the municipal tax rate when considering the gym, but it did not include the impact of adding on locker rooms to the gym.
The UD-3 school district owns the site off Creek Road, and school board members have expressed an interest in adding the locker rooms if the gym is built there. Middlebury is one of seven towns in the UD-3 district, and as such Middlebury taxpayers would pay a portion of adding the locker rooms.
“It won’t be much, but it will be an expense,” Schumer said.
Huston said he could figure that cost and add it into his project estimates.
Committee member Anne Webster asked why the gut renovation estimate had gone up from the $5.8 million estimate he gave at a Dec. 17 meeting. Huston explained that Bread Loaf added in additional contingency costs because of unknowns when it comes to dealing with the lower level of the 103-year-old Municipal Building and the New Deal-era gym.
“You would never be able to renovate this building with all the space below,” he said. “It is lightless, has low ceilings … it is very undesirable space … People need to understand that some of this building will go untouched.”
Dealing with moisture around the foundation could add more costs, too, he said.
“Whenever you renovate a building of this age, especially one with a fire, the cost is anyone’s guess,” Huston said.
Selectman Gary Baker, who is on the committee, pointed out that the historic nature of the buildings adds complexity, and possibly cost, to renovations.
Since there is no formal design for the renovated Municipal building, Huston could not say if it would include space for a senior center or teen center — those exist in the current structure. He would only say that the cost estimate is comparable with what is planned for a new town office building at 77 Main, which doesn’t currently include a senior center and teen center.
Middlebury resident Victoria Dewind asked Huston to break out the cost of rehabbing the town offices and the town gym, so she could compare them to the proposed new buildings. The estimate for the gym is $2.7 million and for the town office is $3.3 million, he said.
Dewind pointed out that earlier cost estimates had come in $70,000 over the target selectmen had set, and she wondered if important components of the design that residents will be voting on could be scrapped when it comes time for construction.
“Shouldn’t voters know what they are voting on,” she asked. “What if the energy efficiency (upgrades) go out the window?”
Committee Chair Nancy Malcolm said that tradeoffs had to be made after a bond passed for construction at the high school and middle school, when engineering showed that the conceptual designs could not be met at the cost approved by voters.
“There is a procedure to vote on what you know and make adjustments (once the final engineering is completed),” she said. “The renovations could be $8 million, not $6 million.”
Huston said there was some scaling back with the Middlebury fire station after the bond passed, as well.
The committee on Tuesday also set out their plans for informing the public over the nearly two months that remain before Town Meeting Day. A townwide mailer will be sent to all residents with factual information aimed to land two to three weeks before March 4 bond balloting, when residents will be making up their minds how they will vote.
They also discussed a Jan. 15 open house to which the public is invited to come and take informal walks through the municipal building and the town gym or take a tour through the facilities led by members of the committee. Bread Loaf will set up images it has created to show both what a refurbished municipal building and a new town office building could look like.
The event, which will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will also feature pizza and cookies, and a movie for kids (supervised by the Ilsley Library children’s librarian) to watch while parents are looking at the facility and speaking with committee members.
“This is a chance to have one-on-one conversations in a way that is less intimidating for some people than coming to a meeting and asking questions in front of an audience,” Malcolm said.
The committee plans to summarize the questions they field at the event and provide those — with answers — to residents, possibly on the website or through an email.
A more conventional information meeting was tentatively set for Feb. 12.
Tuesday’s meeting did not include Ruth Hardy, chair of the ID-4 school board. She had been on the steering committee, but resigned late last week. She represented ID-4, which owns the land where a new town gym originally had been proposed. But since the Middlebury selectboard voted last month to favor the Creek Road site for the gym, Hardy said she was not needed on the committee. (See Ruth Hardy’s letter of resignation here.)

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