Top stories of 2015: #10 — Critical town buildings take shape in Middlebury, Bristol and Ferrisburgh

After years of discussion, major infrastructure projects began in both Middlebury and Bristol in 2015, while Ferrisburgh also went big last year.
In Middlebury, a crew broke ground in the spring on the $6.5 million project to build a downtown municipal office building and a Creek Road town gymnasium and recreation center. After much debate, town voters had backed the projects in March 2014 (and reaffirmed that in May 2014).
Middlebury College’s pledge to assume $4.5 million of debt helped make the buildings possible, as did a town-gown agreement to swap the town’s existing office building site and a Cross Street parcel for the Main Street parcel (owned by the college) on which the new office building is being built.
By the end of 2015, both of Middlebury’s new buildings — the 9,400-square-foot town office at 94 Main St., and the 11,500-square-foot recreation center next to Fucile Field — were on budget and on schedule. Officials expected, if anything, the structures would be completed before their projected target date of early spring.
Middlebury officials had been trying to figure out how to replace the decaying and inefficient — both in layout and energy use — town office building for about two decades. They were happy to find a plan that replaced both the offices (and keeping them downtown) and the gym for a net cost to taxpayers of $2 million.
College officials plan to convert the current town office site into a park, making for a more attractive approach to their campus.
Meanwhile, Bristol had been working on replacing its old and inadequate firehouse for at least a decade. 2015 brought a breakthrough, and in July voters agreed by an overwhelming margin to spend $3.19 million for a 9-acre site on the south side of West Street, across from the entrance to the Bristol recreation fields, and for a new two-story, 11,000-square-foot firehouse to be built on 2.7 of the acres. The town plans to market the remaining land.
In late October, work began, with a July 2016 target date for completion. Town officials calculated the project would add about $80 per $100,000 of assessed value to property tax bills.
Bristol also in August 2015 closed its town dump, leaving Salisbury as the last holdout in Vermont with its own town landfill. In part thanks to 36,000 tons of marble dust capping material from Omya and other landscaping, all that distinguishes Bristol’s former Pine Street landfill from its surroundings are the four ventilation pipes sticking up around the 6-acre site.
Bristol had already collected more than $600,000 to pay for the three-month process of shutting down its dump, and with Omya donating its material and Casella kicking in some trucking costs, the town ended up on the hook for much less than originally expected, a little more than $110,000.
Ferrisburgh, the county’s third-largest town, hadn’t been seriously discussing replacing its aging highway department shed for as long as Middlebury and Bristol had eyed their projects, but by late summer department workers were happy to no longer have to climb over equipment to get to other equipment in their cramped former garage. That’s when the town’s new $1.05 million, 5,940-square-foot, six-bay highway garage was finished.
The new facility, across Little Chicago Road from Ferrisburgh Central School, made its official debut in early September, when it hosted the town’s annual Ferrisburgh Day.
 On the other side of the ledger, Vergennes, the fourth most populous county community, saw efforts to build a $42,000, quarter-acre East Street preschool playground fall short in 2015, in part because delays due in turn partly to public opposition caused a cost over-run. The Vergennes City Council, which planned to use $21,000 from the city’s Water Tower Fund to pay for half of the project, returned a $21,000 grant to the state.

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