UD-3 voters to consider recreation facility lease Feb. 25

MIDDLEBURY — Middle­bury’s plan to build a new recreation facility off Creek Road will face its first major hurdle at the annual UD-3 meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, when district voters will be asked to authorize the negotiation of a lease for the land on which the 11,500-square-foot facility would be built.
The roughly 2.5 acres of land is owned by UD-3, the district that serves Middlebury Union Middle and High schools. UD-3 draws students from Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. Residents of all seven of those towns will be eligible to participate in the Feb. 25, town meeting-style vote that will begin at 6:30 p.m. at MUHS.
The vote on the lease will be the first of several scheduled referenda on the proposal.
Article 5 on the Feb. 25 warning reads, “To see if the voters of said Union District #3 will vote to authorize its board of directors to enter into an inter-local agreement with the town of Middlebury that provides for the leasing of lands it owns located on Creek Road in Middlebury upon which the town of Middlebury will construct public recreation and athletic facilities that will be made available to the general public and school district.”
UD-3 and town officials are trying to work out terms of a lease for the Creek Road property, along with a shared-use agreement for the new facility.
A sticking point has been the length of the lease. The town wants 99 years, while the UD-3 board has initially proposed two 25-year terms, followed by a 10-year term and subsequent annual renewals. Attorneys representing UD-3 believe 99 years would be tantamount to a conveyance of the property (which UD-3 purchased in 2000 from Middlebury Legion Post 27 for $275,000), while the selectboard wants the security of a longer period.
Supporters contend the new building would be a welcome upgrade from the current town gym, which while structurally sound has a number of deficiencies related to access, weatherization, and outdated plumbing, electrical and heating systems. They believe the town has a prime opportunity to replace the municipal building and gym with two new buildings for a combined cost to the taxpayers of $2 million — or 2 cents on the tax rate.
Some residents have expressed concern that the recreation facility might evolve into a new school gym, given its proximity to MUHS.
Some have also voiced dismay with the proposed location of the facility — that it would be outside of the core downtown — and that the lease would not allow UD-3 to recoup the money it spent to acquire the property.
But supporters of the lease note the district will get the benefit of having the old Legion building demolished at the town’s expense, along with ready access to the new facility.
UD-3 voters would also have a direct stake in the recreation center.
If they OK the lease on Feb. 25, UD-3 voters on March 4 will be asked to spend $400,000 on a self-contained, 2,000-square-foot addition onto the proposed community center that would accommodate four team rooms, restrooms, showers and storage space.
That addition would be designated for UD-3 student athletes (and visiting teams) who use the surrounding playing fields owned by Middlebury College. Those athletes currently must change either before they get to the fields, in the Creek Road parking lot, or in the woods surrounding the fields. There is also no substantial on-site structure for students to seek shelter from storms. The former Middlebury Legion headquarters on the property is locked and deemed unsafe for use.
Also on March 4, Middlebury voters will decide a $6.5 million bond issue to finance the new recreation center and a new, 9,400-square foot town office building at 77 Main St., adjacent to the Ilsley Library.
Middlebury College would assume $4.5 million of that debt in return for the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St., which would be turned into a public park, as well as a town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. upon which the Osborne house will be placed.
The college would also pay up to $1 million to move the Osborne House from 77 Main St. to 6 Cross St. and to demolish the municipal building and gym at 94 Main St.
Middlebury’s March 4 warning also features a petitioned advisory article asking if voters would rather have their selectboard focus on rebuilding or renovating the current municipal building and gym at 94 Main St. Residents Michael and Judy Olinick were among several residents who gathered more than 400 signatures to place the article on the warning.
The Olinicks are part of a group of Middlebury residents who object to the current proposal, arguing that the town should not give up 94 Main St. Opponents also claim the new 77 Main St. spot does not have enough space for on-site parking, and that a new town office building at that location would impede future expansion of the adjacent Ilsley Library.
Supporters point to readily available parking that will remain at the nearby 94 Main Street site, and note the 77 Main Street site would remain college-owned without the proposed exchange and not available for Ilsley expansion.
The Olinicks promised to be at the Feb. 25 meeting and hope for a good turnout.
“As we now understand it, the shared use agreement between the town and UD-3 will not be concluded prior to the March 4 final bond vote, so only the proposed lease will be approved at the UD-3 meeting on February 25,” Judy Olinick said, on behalf of the couple. 
The Olinicks said they are concerned with the extent to which the town of Middlebury is being asked to assume all demolition, construction and site costs, as well as maintenance and operation costs for the new building.
Supporters disagree, noting that the architectural firm has figured those costs into the proposed budget in explicit detail.
Project opponent Victoria DeWind also sent out a get-out-the-vote to roughly 60 fellow residents.
Selectman Dean George, a proponent of the project, also hopes for a hefty turnout on Feb. 25 and a positive vote for the lease. He acknowledged a “no” vote would make the going tougher.
“I wouldn’t presume to say (a ‘no’ vote) kills the project,” George said. “(It) might delay the process … We would have to find another way.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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