Historic church gets preliminary OK to build an addition

MIDDLEBURY — The Congregational Church of Middlebury recently passed another major hurdle in its quest to build an 8,023-square-foot addition onto the north side of its historic place of worship at 27 North Pleasant St.
The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) has now given its OK to the project, pending resolution of a few parking and setback issues.
“We’re very excited about the project and are thankful that the town committees have been supportive of it,” said Dave Hallam, a parishioner and manager of the project. “(The church building) is such a landmark that we have designed a project that complements it and will not detract from it.”
The need for the addition, Hallam explained, is being driven by tremendous growth in church attendance — particularly in youth programs. The number of young people attending the church’s youth and religious education programs now exceeds 130. The senior high school youth group (grades 9-12) counts more than 40 members, and is growing. Historically, the church has had extra space for programming at its Charter House, located across North Pleasant Street (Route 7). But the Charter House has evolved into a very busy homeless shelter for families, as well as a warming shelter for individuals during the coldest months of the year. All of the area’s religious institutions are playing a role in supporting the shelter’s mission, as well as in managing some complementary food and clothing programs to help the area’s poorest people.
At one point, Congregational Church of Middlebury leaders theorized that selling the Charter House might raise some income to help bankroll the $3 million expansion project — which also calls for razing the Cobble House next door to make way for the addition. But church leaders decided against such a move.
“We don’t want to sacrifice the mission we have at the Charter House,” Hallam said.
That means the congregation will work hard to raise the estimated $3 million project costs through other means, including pledges, donations and loans. Hallam said another $1 million needs to be raised to reach the goal.
Plans submitted to the DRB show a two-story addition with a standing seam roof with white clapboard exterior designed to blend seamlessly into the historic church building that was completed in 1809. So important is the building to Middlebury’s landscape that its image has become part of Middlebury’s official seal.
The addition, among other things, is slated to host a “youth room,” four classrooms, and a multi-purpose room with a kitchenette that the church could also rent out to other groups.
Middlebury’s Design Advisory Committee reviewed the addition plans three times before giving the project a thumbs-up. The DRB late last month reviewed the plans, listened to a presentation from church leaders, and then unanimously gave the project its conceptual approval. The DRB is scheduled to take another look at the project on Dec. 14. The addition will ultimately require a setback waiver, as related to its positioning along Route 7. The project would also result in the loss of a few parking spaces — another issue that the DRB will ask the applicants to resolve.
Plans also call for the congregation to take a final vote on the project financing plan prior to Christmas, according to Hallam.
If planning and fundraising go smoothly, Hallam believes construction could begin next fall, with work lasting around a year. He does not expect work to disrupt traffic in downtown Middlebury. A key factor in the timing of the project will be the church’s promise to give Cobble House tenants six months’ notice before they have to leave that building. The Cobble House currently contains six apartments, according to Hallam. Some minor asbestos removal work will need to be done before the Cobble House can be demolished, he added.
Church officials noted the new addition will be built up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. That commitment to energy efficiency should minimize operating expenses for the structure, Hallam said.
“Everyone we have talked to believes the project is outstanding,” Hallam said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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