Editorial: Five reasons to vote yes on town office plan

In the past several months, opponents to moving the municipal building and athletic facility in Middlebury to its proposed new sites have zeroed in on a few alleged faults of the plan. In each case, those allegations have been proven wrong.
Here’s a brief rundown of those issues as they apply to Article 6 that Middlebury residents will vote on by Australian ballot on March 4:
• Opponents of the plan have made unsubstantiated allegations that the business community would be hurt because of the proposal if the proposal is accepted. Businesses, on the other hand, have mostly been in favor of the proposed changes — not only because it would create a more attractive downtown (with convenient public restrooms), but also because the tax rate would be held down substantially compared to plans suggested by opponents.
In last Thursday’s Addison Independent, the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and the Better Middlebury Partnership both wholeheartedly supported the proposed move in letters we published.
“The proposed buildings are exactly what are needed,” Andy Mayer wrote on behalf of the chamber board. “They are appropriately sized, energy efficient and will serve the town and its citizens well into the future. The proposal would stand favorably on its own merits even without the college’s substantial and generous contribution. With the support of the college, it makes sense to enthusiastically proceed.”
“The Better Middlebury Partnership’s board has voted 19-0 to support the proposed town office/athletic facility project,” wrote President Ben Wilson on behalf of the board. “The BMP believes that the town/college partnership provides great value to our community and we are excited at the prospect of upgraded athletic facilities and improved town offices on Main Street. Our board shared the concerns of some of our members regarding the project’s parking implications, but after fully reviewing the project plan we are confident that working together we can satisfactorily resolve those issues.”
Reject the notion that businesses are against it. Rather, most are wholeheartedly for it.
• Opponents have inferred that seniors using the Russ Sholes Senior Center would be kicked out on the street and put in the new athletic facility on Creek Road. Horrors of horrors. In an interview we did last week, we found out that the dank, dark basement beneath the current gym is not all that appealing to the seniors; and that they are actually looking forward to a move. By the way, the Russ Sholes group of about 12 seniors meets only once a month for lunch; all drive to the current site at the gym (so a downtown location isn’t as important as adequate parking and good entranceways. The current director said their major complaint of their current site is the deteriorating entranceway, lack of an elevator, and little natural light in the room, which is generally dreary. A new space, their director said, would be welcome.
Reject the notion that the dozen or so members of the senior center would be against the move. Rather, they support it.
• Recently opponents of the plan have suggested that teens would be against the proposed move because they would lose boatloads of space if they move. In a prior story in the Addison Independent, co-director Colby Benjamin said the group was looking forward to the move and the proposed new space. The gym, by the way, will still be open to teen use (just as it is today) as well as multi-purpose rooms in the new gymnasium. The alleged loss of space for teens is another red herring, and the group has already expressed support for the move.
• Allegations that the town would lose space for town meeting are absurd, of course, because the new gymnasium could easily fulfill that role just as does the current gym. It’s another meaningless objection in an attempt to throw up as many things against the project as possible in the hopes that voters will hear one thing and vote against it, regardless of the truth of the argument.
While making these four allegations falsely, they reject one other premise that they really should believe: that this is a one-time offer from the current administration and that another similar offer is unlikely. Here’s why that’s true:
• The current president of Middlebury College, Ron Liebowitz, announced his retirement as president, effective in less than 18 months. If town residents reject the current proposal, the president and his staff have already said the town should not expect another offer of any sort to help in this endeavor. Whomever the new president is will also not likely step up to the plate in the first few years of their administration and offer to give the town another $5.5 million to do a similar project. It would defy all logic to think otherwise.
In the meantime, town residents will have to spend substantially to bring the building into good enough repair to meet health code standards. The municipal building is a disaster; substantial renovation is needed. A couple million or more will be spent within the next couple of years. Once spent, the dye is set for residents to pay the entire bill — and $6 million may not be enough over the years if the project is renovated in a piece-meal fashion.
On all six of these issues, then, opponents have misled the public, while the folks affected are actually in favor of the selectboard’s proposal to move the buildings with up to $5.5 million in college help.
Middlebury residents might wonder why, if all of these groups are in favor of the plan, this very vocal minority of residents is against it? Their answer? They don’t want the college to have more land, regardless of the price offered. It is an emotional argument that works on a gut level, but when looked at rationally, does not make common sense.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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