UD-3 school district, town of Middlebury haggle over Creek Road site details

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials and UD-3 school directors continue to hammer out the terms of a proposed lease that would allow the town to erect an 11,500-square-foot recreation center — including an addition with team rooms for student athletes — on land off Creek Road.
A major sticking point, based on conversation at Monday’s UD-3 gathering and Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, appears to be the length of the proposed lease. The selectboard has asked the UD-3 board (which owns the Creek Road parcel) for a 99-year lease. The UD-3 board has countered with a proposal for two 25-year installments, followed by a 10-year renewal option and then additional one-year renewals at the discretion of both parties.
The selectboard wants the long-term security of a 99-year lease. Failing that, the board wants a stipulation that UD-3 would have to buy the recreation center at fair market value if it elects to terminate the lease before a period of 99 years.
“Our counsel advised we should discuss the buyout if the lease is not renewed in order to protect the town’s investment,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay told UD-3 directors on Monday.
Meanwhile, the UD-3 board’s lawyer is concerned about a 99-year lease.
“Our counsel believes that 99 years is an implied conveyance of the property,” Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Peter Burrows said.
School board members said current term sheet language would appear to force UD-3 to buy the recreation center even if it was the town that decided to break the lease before 99 years.
“It is completely one-sided,” UD-3 board member Bob Ritter of Middlebury said of the lease.
It was in 2000 that UD-3 agreed to acquire the roughly 2.5 acre Creek Road parcel from Middlebury Legion Post 27 for $275,000. The property includes the Legion’s 5,000-square-foot former headquarters, as well as a Little League field and parking lot. It is surrounded by Middlebury College-owned playing fields that are also used by local public schools. Some school officials believe UD-3 should be getting some financial compensation for the property. Other school officials contend UD-3 would be getting good value through the town’s removal of the old Legion hall and periodic use of the recreation center. A use agreement is being worked out between UD-3 Activities Director Sean Farrell and Terri Arnold, director of the Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department.
Plans also call for a self-contained addition to be built onto the recreation center that would accommodate four team rooms, restrooms and storage space for UD-3 athletes and visiting teams using the adjacent playing fields. Voters in the seven ACSU member towns are slated to vote on a $400,000 bond to finance that addition on Town Meeting Day.
And that ACSU-financed addition is raising some questions among some Middlebury town officials. Selectman Craig Bingham is concerned whether the recreation center/locker rooms project might run afoul of Act 60, Vermont’s education finance law. Bingham cited provisions of that law (16 V.S.A., section 4029) that stipulate:
(a) Funds received by a school district may be used only for legitimate items of current education expense and shall not be used for municipal services.
(b) Funds received by a municipality other than a school district may not be used directly or indirectly for education expenses.
In essence, Bingham argues that school funds cannot be used for a municipal project.
So town and UD-3 officials and their lawyers will have their work cut out for them during the next few weeks. They will try to finalize a term sheet, a facility use agreement and final project details leading up to the UD-3 annual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at Middlebury Union High School. That meeting will feature a town meeting-style vote on the proposed Creek Road lease. If the lease is voted down, it would shake the very foundation of the town’s plan to build a new municipal building and recreation center.
Welcome to vote at the UD-3 meeting are residents of the seven ACSU towns: Bridport, Weybridge, Shoreham, Cornwall, Salisbury, Ripton and Middlebury.
Then Middlebury residents are scheduled to vote on the two structures as part of a $6.5 million bond referendum on March 4. Middlebury College is to put up $4.5 million of project financing per terms of an agreement that would see the institution receive the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and a town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St.
And David Donahue, special assistant to college President Ron Liebowitz, said the college’s participation in the deal has a sunset date.
“The (Middlebury College) Board of Trustees voted to support the college’s offer of financial support for the project at its meeting last May (2013), based on the recommendation of the president,” Donahue said. “If the town rejects the proposed project, it will nullify the offer as the offer of support and the board’s vote was specific to the project. It was not intended to be a standing, open-ended offer.”
As the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday, the town was slated to hold another public information meeting later on Wednesday on the proposed municipal building and recreation center. The meeting was to feature a presentation of the building plans, followed by a question-and-answer session for a project that has stirred much local debate and controversy. The Independent will feature coverage of the Wednesday meeting in a future edition.
Wednesday’s gathering was to offer the first details on the new town park that the college proposes to create at a 94 Main St. site that would be cleared of the municipal building and gym. Very preliminary sketches of the park shared at Wednesday’s meeting show, among other things:
•  A gateway plaza fronting the intersection of College and South Main streets. That small plaza would feature some kind of hard surface and potentially a sign describing major events in town-gown history, according to project architect Chris Huston of Bread Loaf Corp.
•  A “gathering green” opposite Sama’s on College Street. This could feature a grass amphitheater for people to congregate under canopy trees.
•  A larger “event plaza” located within the footprint of the current municipal gym. This event area could be covered with a hard surface and built at a slightly elevated level to help shield the park from the parking area off Academy Street.
•  A walkway within the park, as well as various seating areas.
College officials want the park to offer spots appropriate for quiet contemplation, socializing and perhaps light recreation, according to Huston.
College officials emphasized the conceptual nature of the current draft plan, which they said is likely to change based on community input, budget constraints and site limitations.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
THIS SKETCH FROM Bread Loaf Corp. shows a  vision of what Middlebury College envisions for “Academy Park,” the land where the Municipal Building now sits.
A POSSIBLE VIEW of what “Academy Park” could look like if the town sells the property at 94 Main St. to Middlebury College.

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