Bricks from Middlebury municipal building expected to be hot commodity

MIDDLEBURY — Go figure.
Folks are waiting in line for a chance to score some debris from a soon-to-be-demolished Middlebury municipal office complex that has been described by some as an eyesore and a money pit.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay confirmed on Monday that she has received at least 10 calls from people seeking to reserve some bricks from the old municipal building and gym, both slated to be demolished early next month. An inspection of those bricks has revealed them to be free of lead and other impurities that could have prevented them from being repurposed. This will allow for the bricks and some grander architectural elements of the two old buildings at 94 Main St. to be conveyed, rather than landfilled for big bucks.
New Haven contractor Parker Excavation last Thursday won the contract to demolish the municipal building and gym, which have been replaced by a new town office building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation facility on Creek Road. Parker won the contract with a low bid of $325,000, compared to the $725,000 bid submitted by Casella Construction. Officials said Parker’s low bid anticipated the repurposing of a lot of construction debris — particularly bricks.
But Ramsay warned that those reserving bricks should know they will not be getting a ready-to-use product.
“The bricks from the demolition will be covered with mortar and will need to be cleaned before they can be reused,” she said on Monday.
That’s not deterring some people, who want to own a piece of the two structures in which generations of Middlebury-area students have been educated and in which decades of important municipal decisions have been made through annual town meetings and gatherings of local boards. The municipal building was erected in 1911 as the Middlebury High School and served as such until a fire tore through it during the 1950s. After the blaze claimed the top floor, the building housed the municipal offices and, for a time, the police department.
Ramsay said some people are simply looking for a brick or two as souvenirs. Others want at least a truckload to incorporate in home improvement projects. Still others have placed dibs on the semi-circular palladium window at the former entrance of the old high school, as well as the stairs at the Academy Street entrance to the gym.
While the town is prepared to give away small quantities from the demolition, Ramsay cautioned that truckloads would have to be negotiated due to labor/transportation costs. Town officials will also need to consider whether to affix a charge to the larger items — like the stairs and the palladium window — due in part to the care that will be needed to extricate those elements during the demolition process.
“If there are items that could help decrease the cost of the project, we would have to consider that,” Ramsay said.
Anyone interested in any of the salvaged material should place their request with Ramsay at 388-8100, or at [email protected]. Requests need to be made by Monday, June 20, she said.
As of this week, contractors were still clearing asbestos and other hazardous material from the municipal building and gym, work slated to wrap up by the end of this month, according to Ramsay. That project has gone smoothly, save for the detection of a small pocket of unanticipated hazardous material found in a wall in the former Russ Sholes Senior Center, Ramsay said.
Workers will install a chain-link fence around the 94 Main St. site prior to demolition. The demolition itself won’t be very dramatic, officials said, owing to the commitment to salvage as much material as possible.
“Parker has indicated it will be a slow and steady process,” Ramsay said. “There will not be one big implosion, like you see in the movies.”
Once work starts, Parker will have 45 days in which to raze and clear the site for a public park that will be engineered and built under the direction of Middlebury College. The institution now owns 94 Main St. as a result of a deal that netted the town the 77 Main St. site and financial assistance for the new municipal building and recreation facility.
Planning for the new park has been proceeding smoothly with public input, according to Dave Donahue, special assistant to Middlebury College President Laurie Patton.
“Our plan is to begin construction of the park in August,” Donahue said. “It all depends on how the hazardous material abatement and demolition goes.”
An August start could lead to a completed park as early as mid-October or, more conservatively, by Dec. 1, Donahue said. In the meantime, planners will continue to solicit feedback on what the new amenity should look like. To that end, planners have created a list of “guiding principles” for the park. That list includes such priorities as making use of natural topography, making it look different than other parks in town, including some “historical markers,” and making sure it possesses adequate lighting and other basic infrastructure.
The college has thus far held three public feedback gatherings, from which some interesting ideas for the park have emerged, according to Donahue. One concept calls for a pathway leading into the heart of the park that would be lined with three benches. One of these benches would look upon the arch-stone salvaged from the old high school. A statue of Gamaliel Painter — a towering figure in town-gown history — would be seated on the bench.
Donahue stressed that plans are still in flux and added, “The budget is a factor.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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