Park proposal for downtown Middlebury takes shape

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College officials are poised to build the initial phase of a new public park at 94 Main St., an amenity that will include some play facilities, trees, walkways, benches and a copious number of trees and green space.
Jennifer Murray, Middlebury’s director of planning and zoning, recently green-lighted the new park, which will begin to take shape later this summer.
Dave Donahue, special assistant to Middlebury College President Laurie Patton, said the institution will likely pitch some additional park features  —perhaps to include a seated statue of college founder Gamiliel Painter — during the coming years. He explained this initial design will allow the work on the park to proceed soon right after the former town gym and Middlebury municipal buildings are removed from 94 Main. St.
“Winter’s coming and we don’t want to lose momentum,” Donahue said on Monday of the effort to get the new park established. “We want to have the park, to the extent we can have it, seeded and ready to go so that by the spring of next year, it feels alive.”
The college convened three public meetings to gather input on what the park should look like. A special advisory committee made up of college and community members used that feedback to draft a list of guiding principles for the park. That list includes such priorities as making use of natural topography, making the spot look different than other parks in town, including some “historical markers” to explain the site’s importance, and making sure it possesses adequate lighting and other basic infrastructure.
“The number-one directive to the advisory group was that (the park) be a place where everyone feels welcome,” Donahue said.
The advisory committee interviewed three firms interested in designing the new facility, and ultimately picked Burlington-based Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture to do the work.
It’s a project that many Middlebury residents will be watching very closely.
Almost 800 voters in March of 2014 disagreed with the plan to clear 94 Main St. for a park and build new town offices at 77 Main St. and a new recreation facility on Creek Road. The plan included a partnership with Middlebury College, which netted the 94 Main St. site in exchange for other considerations — including conveying the 77 Main St. site to the town and providing some funds for the new town offices and recreation facility. Opponents argued the town should rebuild its municipal building and gym at 94 Main St.
Donahue said the college and Wagner Hodgson have tried to be sensitive to the community’s longstanding attachment to the site, which once hosted Middlebury High School. The gym once served as the town’s armory. With that in mind, Donahue said the park will eventually include some interpretive information so that future park visitors know the important role the site has played in the town’s past.
“This is an important location to the town and the college; we want to do it right,” Donahue said.
The main components and layout of the park can be seen in the graphic that accompanies this article. Here are some of the elements:
•  A “Panton stone play blocks” structure for children.
Tom McGinn, a project manager at the college, said the play blocks emerged from a suggestion from the public that the park possess “children’s play features that were not ‘off-the-shelf’ type playground equipment.”
•  Lounge seating. These are fixed, contemporary-style lounge chairs, according to McGinn.
“At our open forums, there was a call for seating that was more than simply a bench,” he said.
•  A 56-foot-long “entry wall,” beginning at the tip of the park at the intersection of College and South Main streets, made up of salvaged brick from the old municipal building and gym. The wall’s height will vary, depending on slope, from 2 feet to 4 feet, according to McGinn.
•  Placement of the old MHS date stone in an as-yet undetermined spot in the park.
•  Planting of 35 deciduous trees (six varieties), as many as 300 shrubs (around seven varieties) and a number of ornamental grasses and perennials.
Middlebury College, as part of its deal with the town back in 2014, agreed to pay the estimated $1 million cost of clearing the 77 Main St. site of the Osborne House — which was move to Cross Street, clearing the 94 Main St. site — and putting the new park in place.
Donahue acknowledged the college will be exceeding that $1 million budget.
“The cost of the Osborne House move was a little more than expected and the demolition (of 94 Main St.) was a little more than expected,” he said. But Donahue believes the final product will be worth the added expense.
If all proceeds according to plan, heavy equipment late this month will begin to prepare the park site. Donahue hopes to see the new park in place by Dec. 1, weather permitting.
“We’re kind of battling the calendar a little bit,” he conceded.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Op/Ed Uncategorized

Hector Vila: The boundaries of education

There is a wide boundary between the teacher and the student, found most profoundly in col … (read more)

Naylor & Breen Uncategorized

Naylor & Breen Request for Proposals

Naylor and Breen 042524 2×4.5 OCCC RFP

Share this story: