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Town-gown pact on new buildings OK’d in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday voted 5-1 to endorse a term sheet outlining a $7.5 million deal between Middlebury College and the town that would culminate in construction of a new municipal building and recreation center.
It was the board’s third try at approving the term sheet, which has drawn opposition from some residents and town officials who would prefer to see Middlebury replace or renovate its municipal building and gym on-site at 94 Main St. The approved, 12-point term sheet instead calls for:
•  The town to convey the former Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society property at 6 Cross St. to Middlebury College, to which the college would relocate its Osborne House now sited at 77 Main St. The town acquired the CVUUS property a few years ago to make way for the Cross Street Bridge.
•  The college to convey what would be a vacated 77 Main St. parcel to the town, on which a new 9,500-square-foot municipal building would be erected.
•  The town to also build a new recreation facility. Current plans call for that 11,400-square-foot facility to be erected on a parcel off Creek Road owned by the UD-3 school district.
•  The town, after completing and opening the two new buildings, to raze the current municipal building and gym at 94 Main St. The town would also be responsible for moving the Osborne House to the 6 Cross St. site. The college would allocate $1 million to the town for the razing and relocation jobs. Selectboard members have said the college would cover any additional costs if those jobs exceeded $1 million.
•  The college would “construct and maintain a public park” at the cleared 94 Main St. site, and ensure it remains a park “for a period of not less than 99 years.” At the end of that 99-year period, the same agreement terms will remain in effect “unless mutually agreed upon by the voters of the town and the college, and provided that any changes to the terms comply with the planning, zoning and covenant regulations that are in effect when the changes are proposed.”
•  The college to cover debt service on $4.5 million of the estimated $6.5 million bond issue that would be required to finance the new municipal building and recreation center. The town would be responsible for covering the remaining $2 million, estimated to add 2 cents annually to the municipal tax rate.
It’s a term sheet that had been revised on a few occasions based on feedback from the selectboard and Middlebury College. The board failed to approve the document on two previous occasions, stemming from related conflict-of-interest complaints brought by a group of local citizens.
Last October, a complaint resulted in Selectwoman Susan Shashok and Selectman Victor Nuovo recusing themselves from voting on the term sheet based on personal or tangential affiliations with Middlebury College. Shashok’s husband, Alan, worked for Middlebury Interactive Languages, a company partly owned by the college. Nuovo is a retired professor of philosophy at the college. With Nuovo and Shashok’s recusals, the board failed to pass the term sheet in October and revisited it in December, ostensibly passing it by a split vote. But a subsequent conflict-of-interest complaint charged that Nuovo should not have discussed the matter — as prescribed by the town’s conflict-of-interest policy — so the board on Jan. 2 rescinded its vote on the term sheet to consider it again on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Nuovo resigned from the board on Jan. 2, citing the conflict-of-interest complaints as a “distraction” that was impeding the selectboard from making progress on the municipal building and recreation center projects.
The board on Tuesday passed the term sheet after briefly discussing the latest, minor revisions to the document and without much debate. Shasok’s husband no longer works for Middlebury Interactive Languages, and on Tuesday she voted in favor of the term sheet. Selectman Craig Bingham — who has remained steadfastly opposed to the current project — was the lone vote against the term sheet.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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