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Middlebury opens new town office

MIDDLEBURY — Monday ushered in a new era for Middlebury municipal employees, who began working in the new, expansive town office building at 77 Main St. And on Tuesday, those workers were still pinching themselves as they settled into a facility that was more than a decade in the making.
“It doesn’t seem real quite yet,” a beaming Beth Dow said from her sumptuous office on the second floor of the stately structure.
Dow, the assistant to the town manager who spent four decades in service to Middlebury in the old municipal building at 94 Main St., joked that she is still expecting the whole project to dissolve in some kind of cruel April Fool’s joke:
“I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘It’s time to go back to the office.’”
It’s no joke, though most everyone stationed in the new municipal building is all smiles, which looked all the brighter in the glow of the natural light cascading through the 9,400-square-foot structure’s many weather-tight windows.
Just outside Town Clerk Ann Webster’s quarters on Tuesday a small excavator whirred and clanged while moving soil as part of final landscaping and sidewalk work behind the building. But it was music to Webster’s ears as she floated around an open, spotless space that includes ample room for clerical staff, researchers and municipal records. She proudly showed off the new vault that will protect vital town records for what officials hope will be another 100 years.
Webster said her new work home is light years ahead of the old municipal building now standing vacant only a few hundred yards away.
“We love it,” Webster said. “We love the light, we love the efficiency and we like our new vault.”
Along with more modern amenities and fresher air, Webster and her co-workers are enjoying more freedom of movement in their new surroundings. No longer is everything compressed and within arm’s length, as it was at 94 Main St.
“As far as space, we have to move around a lot more,” Webster said. “And actually, at the end of the day, we feel better. In the old place, I felt like I was constantly sitting, stationary.”
Virtually every office within the new building boasts a spectacular view of downtown Middlebury. Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay enjoys a panoramic view of the Cross Street Bridge and the old municipal building, a site that will soon be transformed into a public park. It’s a front-row seat facing a downtown landscape she is helping to shape as the community’s top administrator.
 “It’s bright and sunny, with great eastern and southern exposure,” Ramsay said of her new office. “It is a very warm and inviting work environment. It’s nice to have the visibility outside of my office and into the hallway. It is set up like an office.”
She’s also pleased with a climate-control system that keeps temperature consistent in the weather-tight, net-zero energy building.
“There are no more weather extremes,” she said, briefly harkening back to the former municipal building with its cranky, inefficient boilers.
“It was a long process, but well worth it,” Ramsay said of the years it took to discuss, plan and finally build the project.
Dow can conveniently spot visitors as they arrive on the second floor of the building via the stairwell. The many glass facades within the interior of the structure allow workers to see and communicate with each other without having to pick up the phone.
“The differences could not be more stark,” Assistant Town Manager Chris English said. “This building is going to be great for collaboration. It’s very easy to just drop in and speak with a colleague. There is glass everywhere, so you can see what’s going on. In the old building, even though you knew where everybody was, it was twists and turns to get into dark corners of the facility to have a conversation.”
Dow noted it will take a while for workers to become acclimated to their new surroundings.
“It’s going to take some time before it feels like home, but it certainly is a joy,” she said.
Asked to name her favorite aspects of her new surroundings, Dow said, “The brightness, the sense of space. It’s just surreal. We have to pinch ourselves. Things aren’t falling apart.”
Perhaps the most impressive area of the new building is the second-floor wing that houses the planning, zoning and economic development offices. The wing is fronted by a large, open space with gigantic windows offering million-dollar views of the Main Street roundabout and the Sheldon Museum.
There’s plenty of room for planners to meet with applicants to go over development plans. Tom Scanlon, town health officer and assistant zoning administrator, has a work area along the edge of the communal space. It is a far cry from the glorified storage space that served as his office for 16 years at 94 Main. St.
“The first hour I come in, I’m not sneezing,” Scanlon said of the immediate, positive impact of his new workstation. “The clean air is obvious. The dust, the mold, the dirt, the age and everything else that exuded from the old building is not here. It’s bright, it’s clean, and it’s fresh here.”
TOWN TREASURER JACKIE SULLIVAN HELPS Tom Scanlon settle in to space in the new Middlebury municipal building Tuesday morning. Scanlon’s desk is located in a planning wing common area. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
There is also a small conference room in case a client wants to discuss an issue in private.
He believes the new building will gradually look less institutional and more folksy as workers bring in plants, pictures and other personal touches.
Scanlon on Tuesday still had several boxes of files next to his desk. He was waiting for the delivery of some new filing cabinets.
“The work stays the same, but it’s a better environment to do it in,” Scanlon said. “There are more smiles on people’s faces. It’s a better space. Environment isn’t just a physical space, it’s the people working in it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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