Middlebury gym renovation cost put under microscope

MIDDLEBURY — Architects charged with advancing Middlebury’s proposed new town offices and recreation center projects are trying to dispel what they said is a misperception that the current municipal gym could be upgraded at a bargain at its present location at 94 Main St.
Project architect Chris Huston of Bread Loaf Corp. pointed to assertions made by some residents at public meetings that the municipal gym could be adequately upgraded for around $548,500, and that the community could then rebuild modest town offices next to a renovated gym.
That $500,000 assertion, Huston said, is based largely on the work of a municipal gym task force organized by then-Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger in 2012. That budget, according to Huston, included such items as window replacements, a new heating/air cooling system, basic restrooms and lockers, a security system, exterior painting and rebuilding of the outside stairway facing College Street.
“(The task force) was created as a way to create central renovations to the gym as a stop-gap measure while in the context of thinking about the town office (project) as something that could happen in the future,” Huston said.
He added the town commissioned two studies on the building in conjunction with the gym task force’s work.
The first, by a company called Engineering Ventures, was completed in December of 2012.
“It was related to determining whether the gym was structurally sound,” Huston said.
The firm’s answer to that question was a clear “Yes,” but Huston said the report did not feature renovation cost estimates.
A second study, completed in February of 2013 by Engineering Services of Vermont, focused on the mechanical infrastructure of the gym building, including electrical and plumbing systems. That study, according to Huston, provided an estimate of around $520,000 for optional electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades but did not include “all the work required to comply with life safety codes.”
The estimate also did not include the price of demolition work, finishes, site work, compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, an elevator, sprinkler system, insulation, windows, doors, various owners’ costs and other necessary features, according to Huston.
And those necessary features cease to become options when major work begins on a structure like the gym, Bread Loaf officials noted. That’s because the renovation work to a public building triggers state building code requirements — which in this case would include an elevator, which is a very costly item. Bread Loaf architect John Dale said a ball park cost for building an elevator was around $120,000.
When the task force heard about the extra work that needed to be done a year ago, it determined “it’s not worth spending the money on this at this time,” Huston said.
Town officials then in early 2013 formed a committee to look into prospects of reducing taxpayers’ share of a major on-site rebuild/renovation project. They were cognizant of the June 2012 report prepared with the help of Vermont Integrated Architecture that estimated the cost to renovate the gym and build a new town office building at the 94 Main St. site at $6 million to $10 million.
That 2013 effort to reduce taxpayers’ share of repairs and renovations fizzled when the committee could not find enough grant sources or prospective large donors.
That’s when a majority of the selectboard decided the price tag was too high for Middlebury taxpayers to afford. Selectman Dean George and then-Selectman Victor Nuovo approached Middlebury College officials asking for financial help.
The college agreed to underwrite $4.5 million of project costs, with a few caveats: That the institution receive the 94 Main St. parcel (which would be cleared for a park) and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St., to which the college’s Osborne House would be moved. The town would then build new town offices at the vacated Osborne House site at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center. Currently the plan is to build the rec center on a parcel off Creek Road.
Total cost of the project: $6.5 million would be financed in a 20-year bond with the college picking up $4.5 million of the bond, and the town paying for $2 million. The college would also pay the town up to $1 million to move the Osborne House and clear the 94 Main St. property. Added landscaping and other expenses to create a park would fall on the college.
Middlebury residents are slated to vote on the project — which has generated much controversy and highly contested races for the selectboard — on March 4.
David Donahue, special assistant to Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz, said the college’s financial participation in the deal hinges on a “yes” vote on March 4.
Huston has presented cost estimates showing that:
•  Approval of the $6.5 million bond on March 4 would leave local taxpayers with a $2 million share. The town’s payback on that $2 million share would add 2 cents annually to the municipal tax rate, or roughly $40 in taxes for a $200,000 property.
•  A basic on-site renovation project (involving gutting the two buildings) at 94 Main St. at a cost of around $6 million, which would add 6 cents annually to the municipal tax rate, or $120 per year in taxes on a $200,000 property. Middlebury taxpayers would bear the full cost.
•  Construction of new town office at its current site at 94 Main St., and a basic renovation of the existing gym, would cost $6.4 million, which would add 6.5 cents annually to the municipal tax rate, or $130 per year in taxes on a $200,000 property. Taxpayers would also pick up the full cost.
Huston presented this information at a Feb. 13 public meeting on the municipal building-recreation center proposal. The meeting drew more than 50 people, who were able to submit written questions from the floor. The questions were generally of a clarification nature.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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