George seeks encore on Middlebury board to cap 2014 agenda
MIDDLEBURY — With almost 18 years logged with Middlebury’s top elected board and his latest term set to expire this March, Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George had seriously considered riding into the sunset. But he decided to place his name on the ballot again this year in an effort to take care of what he believes is some unfinished business.
George, 64, is a retired Vermont State Police captain who was first elected to the Middlebury selectboard in 1996 and has served the past two years as chairman. His civic résumé includes a two-year term (2001-2002) representing Middlebury in the Vermont House.
He is a longtime member of the Middlebury’s Public Works Subcommittee and the Addison County Transit Resources board, and currently chairs the Vermont Parole Board.
George wasn’t keen on making another three-year commitment to the selectboard. But when former Selectman Victor Nuovo resigned last month, it created the need to add a one-year term into the 2014 municipal election mix. George believes another one-year term would give him a brief encore to help the board see through an ambitious 2014 agenda.
That agenda, he said, will include replacing the deteriorating railroad overpasses on Merchants Row and Main Street with a single tunnel, an estimated $18.3 million project for which Middlebury will commit up to $500,000.
“We want to make sure that project is done right,” said George.
The town is also set this year to buy, with Middlebury College’s participation, and demolish the Lazarus building at 20 Main St., a project that will result in better access to the Marble Works.
That arrangement also calls for the college to acquire a small parcel of town-owned land behind the Ilsley Library that the institution will combine with its own real estate to market to a developer. The hope is the developer would create an as-yet undefined project to make the downtown more of an economic magnet.
And 2014 will also result in the long-awaited replacement of the Sand Hill Bridge on Route 125 in East Middlebury. That major undertaking will result in some short-term inconvenience (detours), but long-term safety and transportation benefits for those going back and forth from Middlebury to Ripton and to Hancock, Granville and Rochester.
“To get all of this accomplished in 2014 would be huge,” said George.
And George’s to-do list also, of course, includes another major project that has captivated the attention of many Middlebury residents: The proposed construction of a new town office building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center on property off Creek Road.
The $6.5 million project is tied to an agreement with Middlebury College. Plans call for the college to acquire the current municipal building/gym at 94 Main St., which would be razed and turned into a public park. The institution would relocate its Osborne House at 77 Main St. to a town-owned parcel at 6 Cross Street.
In return, the college would assume $4.5 million in construction debt for the town’s new municipal building and recreation center. The college would also pay up to $1 million for the Osborne House relocation and the clearing of the 94 Main St. site.
It’s a plan that has come under fire from some local residents who believe the town shouldn’t give up the 94 Main St. parcel. They also argue that the recreation center would be too far removed from the downtown and that the new office building would not have enough parking and would thwart potential future expansion of the adjacent Ilsley Library.
But George and others believe the plan would serve Middlebury well. George said that he, too, would have preferred to keep the municipal building and gym at their present location, but he believes such a proposition would have been too expensive for local taxpayers.
Therefore some selectboard members, including George, approached the college asking if it would be willing to participate. College officials said yes, with the caveat that the institution acquire 94 Main St. and that the new municipal building be erected elsewhere.
“We hoped (the college) might even consider supporting a project on site, but that was not to be,” George said. “President Liebowitz agreed to make the pitch to college trustees at their board meeting and came back with a proposal that we kind of upped the ante on. We told him we needed to be able to have enough of a financial contribution to limit the exposure to the town at approximately $2 million, or 2 cents on the tax rate, for a bond. We were able to negotiate that number into play.”
George believes the resulting agreement is solid.
“I believe we have a proposal that provides us with an opportunity to keep our town office downtown, albeit on the Osborne site, and we have an opportunity to create a new recreation facility for our town that has a big appetite for recreational programs for adults and kids, and have a modern facility with more programs,” George said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity at a pretty low cost for us.”
He said the town office project, coupled with the razing of the Lazarus building and new rail tunnel and park, could bring some positive changes to downtown Middlebury for future generations.
“I think this provides the downtown with a whole new opportunity to be a destination,” George said. “It’s not quite there yet. (The project) removes some problematic town office buildings that are extremely costly to maintain and heat. It will create two new buildings that I think are going to be fantastic in terms of their design and how they will fit in with the rest of the community.”
If he is to win another year on the selectboard, George will have to defeat fellow candidate Heather Seeley. Six other candidates are vying for two three-year spots on the board.
“The important thing for me is putting the time and energy into the work, which I am committed to doing,” George said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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