Liebowitz explains college participation in town office project

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz on Tuesday made it clear that the college’s current offer of construction aid for a proposed Middlebury town office and recreation project is not transferrable to a different project. The college has offered to underwrite $4.5 million of the construction costs for the two town buildings in return for the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St.
Liebowitz explained in an interview with the Independent that any project of more than $1 million has to be individually vetted and endorsed by the college’s board of trustees.
He has already announced that he will be stepping down as college president at the end of next school year. He also noted the college has already agreed, in a separate transaction, to purchase and convey the Lazarus building property on Main Street to the town, along with a 1.4-acre parcel of land off Bakery Lane to be used in a future economic development initiative.
“So all those things conspire to me to suggest that this is (a final offer),” Liebowitz said.
The college president said the college “never went after” the 94 Main St. property, but was responding to a selectboard inquiry.
He added, “There isn’t a groundswell of initiative or enthusiasm to go forward with this project absent the selectboard’s query of us.”
“This is my last year coming up as president, and there’s the old adage, ‘You don’t want to tie the hands of your successor,’ so to put this in the final year of my presidency, to put it to the board during the incoming year of a new president, would be a bit unfair,” Liebowitz said.
The college has also agreed to pay the estimated $1 million costs of moving its Osborne House from the 77 Main St. site to the 6 Cross St. parcel (which would allow the construction of a new town office at 77 Main), and to clear the 94 Main St. parcel and turn it into a public park.
College officials at this point believe the current $1 million budget for moving the Osborne House and creating the new park will be more than adequate. They have said that any funds left over could be used to make the new town buildings more energy efficient. On Tuesday, Liebowitz further clarified the college’s position.
“We made it clear to (selectboard Chairman) Dean George and others that we didn’t want them to skimp on this project, because we thought an important part of this was energy efficiency and the smart building they were contemplating,” he said. “So we don’t want them to cut corners. We don’t know the cost of moving the Osborne House, so we anticipate there will be some flexibility there. Even if there is not flexibility, we asked (town officials) to let us know what the delta is so that we could help out. Because penny-wise, pound-foolish. If it costs a little bit more, it might be well worth it in the long run.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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