Opinion: Actions should match rhetoric
As I am not a Middlebury resident, I hold no financial stake in the debate as to the best location for the Middlebury town offices and gym yet, as the controversy unfolded, I was disturbed by a sense of inconsistency in Middlebury College’s role on this issue. I find a rather glaring disconnect between words and actions when it comes to Middlebury College’s position on the environment.
Over the past 20 years or so we have watched Middlebury College erect a long series of very large and positively luxurious facilities which seem to share the common themes that “bigger is better,” “old is bad” and “money is no object.” These building projects are too numerous to list here but, suffice it to say, Middlebury College is, functionally, the most prolific developer in this county. Conspicuous consumption seems an inadequate term; perhaps conspicuous construction would be more appropriate.
At times, Middlebury College’s building projects replace serviceable and relatively new buildings that are no longer fashionable (like the old science building). Other times, previously constructed ego-projects were so impractically designed and constructed that they had very short serviceable lives (like the pre-bubble field house). These buildings are torn down to make way for the new, more stylish and usually much larger replacements.
Along the same time-line, Middlebury College has been promoting itself as one of the “greenest” colleges is America. I find this inconsistency to be quite ironic. I do not care how many solar panels spring up in the field, how much willow biomass is produced and burned, how many board-feet of LEED-certified lumber are incorporated into the never-ending construction or even that the destroyed buildings are ground up into gravel and recycled, Middlebury College’s behavior, at a macro environmental level, has been anything but green. Middlebury College’s actions over the past two decades can best be characterized, in fact, as rampant architectural consumerism executed on the largest scale. Middlebury College seems to have forgotten the first two-thirds of the most basic environmental tenet we all learned back in elementary school; that “Reduce” and “Re-use” come before “Recycle.”
Now Middlebury College expands its appetite for destruction to the town of Middlebury. In what has become typical Middlebury College style, money is no object, a serviceable building will be razed, and the college’s institutional ego will be well served (by the much-improved vista of the college’s other status-projects). There would be no controversy on the town office/gym issue if it were not for the $5.5 million that Middlebury College has conditionally placed on the table. The fact that this cash is referred to as an “incentive” and not a “bribe” makes it no less unsavory. It is intended to influence behavior.
I have no issue with nice new buildings and respect the town of Middlebury’s right and responsibility to select the best plan from amongst the options that are available. I do have an issue with the superficial nature of Middlebury College’s self-proclaimed environmentalism and feel that the college has stacked the decks to create an inevitable outcome. I hope that the people of Middlebury will pause and consider the larger environmental consequences of their choices, even if Middlebury College, apparently, will not. Tearing down usable buildings and constructing replacements is very exciting but does not represent sound or sustainable environmental policy when you look at the huge overall ecological footprint of such actions. If the town does elect to take Middlebury College’s money and commit to the plan that goes with it, I might counsel waiting a few weeks before putting up the next batch of “no-idling” signs however, lest the town risk appearing just as naked as our much-lauded environmental emperor on the hill.
Stephen M. Koller
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