Opinion: Town office proposal benefits town and college

A mailing from the Citizens for Middlebury’s Future asks for our thoughts. Here are mine.
You are asking Middlebury residents to give up one of the best financial opportunities the town has had in a long time, if not ever.
During the last three years and even longer, you have had a thorough, inclusive, transparent and creative planning process, if you have read the newspapers, and reports, and gone to meetings. I have only lived in this town for five years and I feel fully informed.
The town and college have discussed mutual needs and objectives many times. A plan has been developed that is beneficial to both. The college is giving the town a fantastic financial opportunity and must see it as a top priority, given the large sum of money, for the college’s future as well as the town’s. It has also been made clear that the college will not enter into future discussions or make such a generous offer again, if the current plan is abandoned.
Careful planning for our historic downtown district should always continue. But, careful planning has been done for a new town hall and new gym, which should go forward. Once implemented, the new town hall will be a beautiful centerpiece of the downtown district. It will be the anchor at the Cross Street roundabout, which will provide a nice southern end point for Main Street with the beautiful Congregational Church at the northern end of Main Street.
Long-term programming and planning convenient space for seniors and teens should continue, if the spaces allocated in the current plan are not sufficient. But this is not a reason to stop this plan. There may be a number of additional locations and spaces for these two groups that would be a great improvement over the old gym.
Discussion of long-term Ilsley Library needs should continue, but building a new town hall next to the library can only enhance the latter’s future. Connections to the town hall could be made, expansion out the back could add more space. Maybe the library’s needs are not so much for space, but rather for technology. This is not a reason to stop the new town hall plan.
With all the recreational facilities in Middlebury, I can’t believe there isn’t a comprehensive Recreation Department plan. But, this type of planning should always continue and a new gym on Creek Road will utilize space that has long been dormant. It could be the catalyst for additional uses of the Creek Road land that is so convenient for the town’s schools.
Easily accessible municipal office space is answered with the current plan. It will be much more easily accessible than the current office. Expandable space, should it be needed, could be added in the direction of Otter Creek.
Serious consideration of present and future parking downtown should always be included in long-range planning efforts. The new location of the town hall does not reduce current parking, but it does position the town hall in a better place to be near additional parking. The town’s future development of the area between the new town hall and Otter Creek should include a parking garage of at least two levels, in addition to office and/or retail space above the parking levels. Completing the new town hall will enhance the opportunity for more parking close to Main Street.
Planning for our energy future with commitment to non-fossil fuels should always continue to be a priority. Energy efficiency has been specifically included in the plans for the new town hall and gym, and more opportunities are currently being developed at no additional cost. They will set a trend for other steps in this important direction.
Concerning the money, I have faith that the college, Bread Loaf Construction, the town committees and the selectboard are pretty good at estimating and budgeting a plan such as that already approved. I can’t believe that people would walk away from an opportunity to get a new town hall and gymnasium, plus a public park, for only $2 million. This plan has been a long time in coming. Let’s complete it now.
Tim Williams

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