Opinion: Gym is worth second look

Editor’s note. The writer sent this too late to appear before this week’s vote, but she asked that it be printed now because of the broader issues it raises.
I wish to express my appreciation to Brenda Ellis’ letter of Feb. 27. I also have been following the discussion on the town hall issues, and as I expressed in a letter two months ago, I also was very distressed with the unnecessary tone of the debate. But I have come to the opposite conclusion to Brenda’s — I am going to vote “no” on the bond vote because I am decidedly not ready to vote “yes.” While I wish very much to see Middlebury create an efficient, safe and professional space for town workers and municipal functions, I wish more to see the decision made under better circumstances, moving into 2014 with a determination to put the acrimony of 2013 behind us.
I understand that the college may withdraw its current offer if this decision is delayed further. I do not believe that, because I really do believe that the college has good intentions in helping to forge a resolution that is best for town and gown. I am more concerned about a more pressing deadline: the date on which the current town gym is torn down.
I worry less about the old school building that houses the town offices, although there are many interesting features, such as the now-defunct east-facing doorway that I think would be worth preserving and returning to an attractive purpose. But the gym, I think, is worth another careful look before we tear it down. It has its own history separate from the old school: It was built in the 1930s as part of the New Deal system of works projects. This is a history worth celebrating, and it has many features that will not be found in the new facility. I spent many hours in the gym through my children’s various recreation activities, and also enjoyed the space myself in exercise classes over the years. I always much appreciated that grand space, and the light from those high windows. And it has served us all well as a town meeting place over the years. The new facility may have many efficiencies and modern conveniences, but I fear that it will be a lesser space.
This town has an unfortunate history of walking away from usable and historic spaces. Wouldn’t Twilight Hall, for example, make a wonderful center for town offices? For that matter, the old town hall would also have made a great town hall, as much as we all enjoy its current function. So let’s all take a deep breath and reconsider this whole project over the next year or two, at which point, I hope, we will have more consensus, or at least a better appreciation for all who have put their passion and many months of hard work to try to serve the town, on both sides of the issue.
Dawn Saunders
East Middlebury

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