New Middlebury gym gets mostly thumbs up as new polling place
MIDDLEBURY — Prior to Nov. 8, some Middlebury residents had raised concerns about how voters would adjust to the new polling place at the town’s recreation facility at 151 Creek Road.
With the General Election now squarely in the rearview mirror, town officials said they have received mostly positive reviews from local voters, who for the first time in many years — perhaps ever — cast ballots in a venue outside of the core village area.
“I have received very good reports all the way around,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said on Tuesday of the recreation facility’s first-time service as a polling place.
Town meeting and Australian ballot voting had been held at the former municipal building and gym at 94 Main St. But workers razed those structures this past summer to make way for a public park at what had been Middlebury’s hub for town government since the mid-1950s.
Ramsay reported people were particularly pleased on Election Day to find ample parking and modern amenities at the new recreation facility, where hundreds showed up to weigh in on a variety of races, including for U.S. president, Vermont governor, and the town’s two House representatives.
Overseeing the elections, per usual, was Town Clerk Ann Webster.
“There are always a few little glitches, but overall, a thumbs-up,” Webster said on Monday. “People seemed to move through pretty quickly.”
Still, she acknowledged some logistical challenges in moving the voting to Creek Road.
Webster had to close her office in the new municipal building at 77 Main St. on Monday, Nov. 7, and Tuesday, Nov. 8, in order to set up the polling facilities and conduct the election at 151 Creek Road. That meant Friday, Nov. 4, was the last day on which residents could vote early. Webster explained there is no permanent storage for elections equipment within the recreation building. So that material had to be taken, and set up, on site. This was less of an issue at the old municipal building, which was physically connected to the former gym by a hallway.
“The hardest thing about having the election (at the new recreation facility) is that it is disruptive for several days,” Webster said. “It disrupts the recreation programs.”
The few negative comments Webster received about the new election setup came mainly from folks who said they were taken by surprise by the venue shift.
“They said, ‘You need to advertise where it is,’” said Webster, who did pre-publicize the switch through the Addison Independent, Middlebury Community Television, signs, email blasts and the Middlebury town website.
“We’re tried to do everything we could to get that information out,” she said.
Getting to the recreation facility to vote was likely more convenient for those living in neighborhoods south of the downtown and east of Otter Creek. For some other folks who chose to vote on Nov. 8, it meant driving across town after years of being able to walk to the polls at 94 Main St.
“The new polling place certainly isn’t as convenient as when it was downtown,” said resident Ross Conrad. “Rather than vote while I was in town doing my other errands, I had to make a special trip to go and vote. That to me was the biggest downside. This is not a good example of the kind of town planning and growth that is very wise in an age of man-made global destabilization, where we collectively need to figure out how to be more efficient with our transportation choices and reduce our need to travel. Perhaps in future years, Addison County Transit Resources can have a shuttle running out to the recreation center from downtown to make it easier for folks that don’t have ready transportation.”
Ultimately, it will be up to Middlebury’s Board of Civil Authority to set future election venues.
“I hope we can figure out a steady schedule of where the elections will be,” Webster said, noting the importance of predictability.
She acknowledged future presidential general elections are likely to drive the need for a large venue like the recreation facility. But she is confident the new municipal building can continue to accommodate early voting and smaller elections.
Typically, 3,500 to 3,900 Middlebury residents vote in a General Election, according to Webster. A total of 3,721 local residents cast ballots in this year’s contests. But an all-time record of 1,800 residents voted early in this year’s election, doing so at the town office building, Webster noted. That voting went smoothly, she said, though some residents complained about a lack of on-site parking.
“It is harder for people to park here in the downtown than it was at the gymnasium,” Webster said.
Meanwhile, Ramsay said the Middlebury Union High School gym is emerging as a leading candidate to host the annual town meeting next March. That, too, will usher in a new era for local residents, who have historically gathered at the old municipal gym at 94 Main St.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].