College will fund ‘net-zero’ energy footprint for Middlebury town office

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College has agreed to pay up to $287,550 for additional equipment designed to make the town’s soon-to-be-built municipal building a “net-zero” project, meaning the total amount of energy to be used by the structure on an annual basis will roughly equal the amount of renewable energy created at the site.
The college’s $287,550 pledge is above and beyond the $4.5 million in debt the institution has agreed to assume on a $6.5 million plan to build the town’s new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road.
The agreement also calls for the college to pay up to $1 million to clear the current municipal building site at 94 Main St. for conversion into a public park, and for moving the college’s Osborne House from 77 Main St. to a town-owned parcel at 2 Cross St.
Ron Liebowitz, president of Middlebury College, said the institution’s pledge to provide additional aid for a net-zero municipal building is consistent with an environmental ethos shared by the town and the college. The college has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016.
“We think it’s important that the town is pursuing net zero energy,” Liebowitz said during a recent phone interview. “We were aware of this way back and said we would do the best we could to help out in that.”
Middlebury’s Town Offices & Recreation Steering Committee held an “energy charette” on Aug. 5, then worked with its architect (Bread Loaf Corp.) and Efficiency Vermont to develop estimates for a net-zero municipal building. The resulting $287,550 estimate includes such features as a “super-insulated” building envelope; high-performance windows; air source heat pumps; passive solar and exterior sun shading; energy monitoring; and a community solar array to offset energy consumption.
The college’s $287,550 pledge will be reduced by any Efficiency Vermont grants the town is able to secure to apply toward the equipment.
 “One of the attractions of having a new town office building is not just having a nice, healthier space, but having the infrastructure of that space complying with some bigger goals,” Liebowitz said. “Why miss out on that opportunity? We didn’t want the town to be fully constrained, so we offered our help.”
Middlebury officials were pleased with the college’s pledge for equipment. A net-zero building, they noted, will substantially reduce annual operating costs. The current municipal building is poorly insulated and has an antiquated boiler system that is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars per winter in lost heat.
“It’s very exciting,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George said of the additional energy efficiency features for the new building. “I don’t know of any other net-zero municipal building that exists in our region.”
The steering committee also explored the prospect of making the new recreation facility a net-zero energy project. But the initial estimate for doing so was $700,000. Planners concluded that it would take a wood pellet boiler system, similar to the one in place at the Addison County Transit Resources headquarters, to help achieve the net-zero goal. The cost of the wood pellet boiler system and related infrastructure was pegged at $440,000.
“With these considerations in mind, the design team believes it is not a cost effective use of resources to pursue a net zero building for the recreation facility,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said in a written statement. Ramsay added, however, that the new recreation facility as designed is still expected to be “a highly efficient building” and that the structure could someday be retrofitted with new energy technology developed during the next two decades.
Current plans call for the Osborne House to be moved sometime next month. The former Middlebury Legion building on Creek Road is also slated to be demolished this fall to make way for the new recreation facility. Work on the new municipal building and recreation facility is scheduled to begin next spring.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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