Opinion: A ‘no’ vote would allow town to consider new options

Middlebury residents assumed that our selectboard was developing a proposal, consistent with the town plan, for the renovation/reconstruction of the municipal building and gymnasium on their current sites.
The town had indeed developed such a proposal by late fall 2012 to be funded by taxes, grants and donations. Six months later, however, a new plan, hatched in secret negotiations between Middlebury College and two selectboard members, was unveiled: Sell the land to the college, demolish the buildings, and construct new ones elsewhere.
Many residents oppose transferring the land to private hands and moving the gym out of downtown, violating the town plan. They advocate for renovating the gym (doable according to some for well under $1 million) and replacing the municipal building with a modest structure, expandable when current bonds are paid off.
Others, willing to sell the current property, wanted extensive discussion at open forums. The public should have had opportunities to suggest other locations for a town hall and gym if we are giving up the land. Many interesting alternatives emerged including Skip Brush’s plan that might not cost the taxpayers any money and Alpine Bingham’s idea of constructing a single building housing offices and gym on Route 7 South. Other imaginative proposals are emerging: a riverside town hall on the EDI property, placing facilities in a more accessible Marble Works, etc.
Many who like the current plan think that the process that led to it was seriously flawed: inadequate public debate or thoughtful consideration of alternatives. They will vote NO on Article 1, sending a message to the selectboard that major projects need a more open, democratic procedure. Others will vote NO because they see significant problems with the proposal that may cost taxpayers many dollars in the years ahead to remedy.
There is no emergency requiring that we be pushed now into a deal. The college has a legitimate concern that first-time visitors to our community see attractive buildings at the 94 Main St. location. College interest in cooperating with our local government for a healthy development of the town will continue. Perhaps this college administration or its successor will see that the better way to proceed is to offer no-strings-attached assistance.
Please join your neighbors in voting NO on Article 1 so that we have a chance to develop the best possible plan for our municipal facilities.
Michael Olinick

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