Opinion: New town office building shows signs of lack of foresight

I knew we needed new structures to replace the Middlebury town office and gym, as had been the case for decades. With the way the latest plan was being presented and railroaded through, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of the project. I felt it was shortsighted and was not hashed out enough to give an affirmative vote either in March or May that year. True that after these votes happened, the college started contributing more funds to make things like a carbon neutral town office. However, it just felt like there was still too much up in the air, and that new efforts were being made to entice skeptics in the eleventh hour, despite it’s shortcomings.
This year as everyone readied for the opening of the new structures, and soon thereafter, I found some of my concerns being proven true. When this paper reported that the state forest service was to close down their local station, but maintain an office in town and hoped to place it in the town office. This paper had also suggested at one point that the town and chamber of commerce should try to work together to establish an informational kiosk at the new town office. Neither suggestion has been possible or come to fruition because the town only planned space for existing officers and staff in the new building. Very little room was left for growth in this shiny new building.
Last spring I enrolled two of my daughters in the Midd Kid Dance program. Something I hope to do again this fall. Being involved in the program, we experienced first hand the troubles Midd Kid Dance had in not only moving mid season, but then having to change sites again within weeks. This happened due to the program director being ignored by the design team when she told them what type of flooring was needed for the dancers (and likely other programs operating in the multi-purpose room.) This miscalculation also resulted in several dancers (including the program director) becoming injured while using the space. While I do not know the extent of these injuries, I do know that injuries can come back to haunt a person, and these children might have lifelong issues resulting from this error.
The flooring issue is to be corrected before the fall dance session, thankfully. However, the change in space availability has caused Midd Kid Dance to drastically change how they offer their classes. They have also had to start using a second facility. They are not the first program I have heard about that use(d) town facilities before the new construction that have had to significantly alter what they offer in Middlebury and where.
I have worked in construction and architecture at times, and know that there can be growing pains with any new building and construction projects in general. However, I feel that the town could have spent just a little more time on planning and listening to residents’ concerns. Had they done so, these issues might have been avoided. I can only hope that we don’t start hearing about needs for more space in these town facilities within a decade or two.
Ian Ross

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