Opinion: Middlebury town project is a ‘marriage of convenience’

The town office/recreation facility proposal is a marriage of convenience between Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury. It is well known that marriages of this sort leave much to be desired. I have noted several major flaws in this proposal, any one of which justifies a rejection by the voters. I’m sure that others can find more reasons that warrant leaving this ill-conceived proposal at the altar.
Here are some of the flaws I found, in no particular order.
Moving the town offices to the Osborne House site will decrease the amount of parking available in the already overcrowded municipal parking lots while at the same time dramatically increasing the demand for that parking. Our downtown businesses and Ilsley Library’s patrons will suffer.
Our seniors would be relegated to a much smaller, shared space that is not well suited to their needs. They deserve a dedicated space that does meet their needs.
Over 15,000 square feet of centrally located indoor recreation space would be replaced by an 11,000-square-foot facility on a site that is in a far less desirable location.
The teen center is isolated in a much smaller building which the recreation director had planned to use to increase revenues and expand recreational opportunities. Currently our teens enjoy the occasional use of the gym while the teen center is open. That valuable interconnection would be lost.
Town meetings and elections would require the expense of securely storing and moving supplies, seating, and equipment from an undetermined location to another yet to be determined location on an ongoing basis. Where would our town meeting be held?
The proposal ignores the current and future space needs of Ilsley Library and forecloses on the most desirable option for expanding that important facility.
The citizens were denied their rightful place at the table when the seeds of this proposal were germinated by Middlebury College and the leaders of the board of selectmen.
Our municipal gym could be renovated to contemporary standards for far less money than would be spent to replace it. The cost figure that Bread Loaf Construction has supplied for the renovation of the gym, $2.7 million, is a grossly inflated estimate that lacks detail and flies in the face of the $529,000 estimate for bringing the mechanical, electrical and plumbing “up to contemporary standards” prepared for the town by Engineering Services of Vermont LLC (ESV) just last year. Bread Loaf estimates electrical costs at $290,000 and ESV estimates the needed wiring upgrades at $25,000. Why the discrepancy? Bread Loaf is basing their costs on an unnecessary “gutting” of the building while ESV contemplates a far more economical renovation. Additionally, the ESV estimate includes the addition of showers and locker rooms in the basement, and a bathroom upstairs.
The planning of our fire department renovation/expansion took 29 months of careful study before a bond vote occurred. Why is the town trying to ram this far more expensive proposal through in a mere nine months?
The option of renovating our town offices has never been studied in a detailed manner. Again, the cost figure that Bread Loaf Construction has supplied for the renovation of the town offices, $3 million, is a grossly inflated estimate that includes unnecessary items, such as an elevator, and is severely lacking in detail.
The proposal would force the town to sell off a parcel of land that a town committee has determined to be the best site for our town offices. We would forever lose the opportunity to build there.
There is no doubt that our town offices and municipal gym need attention. If we wish to leave our town in good shape for future generations careful planning calls for a process that allows significant public participation, and adequate time to fully research and consider the options, indispensable elements that this proposal clearly is lacking. I ask you to join me in voting against the town office/recreation project on March 4.
Craig A. Bingham, Middlebury Selectman

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