Editorial: Petition on town office vote offers additional time for reflection

The petition to reconsider Middlebury’s Town Meeting Day vote on a $7.5 million plan to build a new municipal building and recreation center and create a park on the existing site is to be expected and respectfully considered. Petitions frequently follow controversial, and close, votes.
Middlebury native Skip Brush is spearheading the petition drive to vacate the March 4 decision, and instead build a new municipal building and senior center at 105-111 Court Street, formerly occupied by Lightning Photo. Both buildings are currently empty. Brush’s plan would also have the town build a new recreational facility as an addition to the Memorial Sports Center at 296 Buttolph Drive — near the town swimming pool on the northeast corner of the Mary Hogan Elementary School grounds. Brush has figured the town could complete the total project for roughly $3,715,000. (See story here.)
Brush’s plan includes razing the existing municipal building and gym and conveying that property to Middlebury College— part of the plan already approved by voters 915-798 at town meeting.
The plan has a few positive aspects, the two most compelling are that it would combine recreational facilities in the same location, and it could be less expensive to taxpayers.
But it also has a few drawbacks: the college has said that no other project should expect financial support from the college (therefore making the proposal almost twice as costly to taxpayers); it moves the municipal building out of the downtown; and, among others, it doesn’t solve UD-3’s problem with the dilapidated American Legion facility nor provide locker room facilities for student athletes.
The biggest drawback is moving the municipal building out of the downtown. Of all the citizen input gathered in meetings over the past 20 years, the one consistent message was to keep the town offices downtown. Done right, a new municipal building on the Osborne site adds a pleasing and prestigious architectural aesthetic to the southern approach to the downtown, and creates greater public use of municipal facilities.
What we should not do, however, is consider Mr. Brush’s petition as bothersome. It is part of the democratic process and the community can use it as a way to better understand the current proposal passed on March 4, as well as other options.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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