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Bridge work in downtown Middlebury suspended for festival, market and auction

MIDDLEBURY — The temporary parking barriers erected in downtown Middlebury for a Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) project to install temporary bridges will recede early next month to ensure convenient access to three popular annual July events set for the village green:
The Festival on-the-Green, St. Stephen’s Church Peasant Market and Lion’s Club auction and barbeque.
“The fact that (the town and VTrans) are accommodating us is amazing,” said Pat Boera, secretary of Festival on-the-Green, which will stage live music and other entertainment July 9-15.
The festival follows the annual Peasant Market on July 8 and precedes the Lion’s Club Auction and BBQ, set for 4:30 p.m. on July 19.
A lot of the parking along Main Street and Merchants Row has been blocked off in recent weeks with the launch of a major effort to install temporary bridges over the railroad through the village.
The deteriorating, 1920s-era spans currently in place are being swapped for the temporary bridges, after VTrans issued an emergency order to do so earlier this year. They will eventually be supplanted by a concrete tunnel — the lynchpin of a $52 million project that will get under way next spring and last into 2021, according to the most recent VTrans projections.
Plans call for the temporary bridges project to be wrapped up by mid-August, but according to Jim Gish, community liaison for the rail bridges project, VTrans officials agreed to suspend construction activities during the July 4 holiday and other key events next month.
“The temporary bridges schedule I negotiated with VTrans split the project into two phases specifically so that the community could hold three of our marquis summer events … on the village green,” Gish said. “All parking was restored on Merchants Row this past Friday. We expect to wrap up work on the Main Street waterline by the end of the week and restore all parking on Main Street by the weekend.”
All downtown parking should be available from Saturday, July 1, through Thursday, July 20, according to Gish.
That’s great news for organizers of the Peasant Market, Festival and Lion’s auction, who had been concerned that construction and limited parking would put a damper on turnout.
With their fears allayed, downtown event planners want people to know that Middlebury remains open for business and attendees should find the same access to parking and services they have enjoyed in past years.
Still, Boera hopes attendees will consider biking or carpooling to get to events to ease any lingering parking concerns.
“We want to encourage people to come out for the festival, and we encourage them to think of other ways to get to downtown Middlebury,” she said.
MUSIC FESTIVAL
The festival is in its 39th year, and Boera has been a co-organizer since its humble beginning. Since then the festival has earned a statewide reputation, which has helped it draw outstanding local, regional and international talent. This year is no exception: The roster of performers includes singer-songwriter Jon Gailmor, the Jason Anick Gipsy Jazz Trio, Radio Free Honduras, Dave Keller’s 9-Piece Soul Review, and Grammy Award winners Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore.
“We have some groups that people will be really excited to see,” Boera said (See more on the Festival on-the-Green in next Thursday’s Arts + Leisure section).
It’s never too soon to look ahead to next year, and festival organizers are doing just that in anticipation of the rail bridges project being in full swing in July 2018. The board wants the annual event to be nimble, and a few years ago transplanted the festival to Middlebury’s recreation park for two years in anticipation of downtown bridge work that was ultimately postponed.
Boera said the board will either ask for permission to return to the rec park next year, or will consider another intriguing, temporary landing spot: The new downtown park at the intersection of College and South Main streets.
The Better Middlebury Partnership and the Middlebury Community Music Center are co-sponsoring their “Midd Summer Music & Movies” series at the new park most Wednesdays from June 28 to Aug. 23. Boera said she and her colleagues will keep a close eye on the success of the Midd Summer series to see whether the new park could stage the Festival on-the-Green next July.
PEASANT MARKET
Meanwhile, organizers of the Peasant Market have been busy since June 19 taking in a lot of donated items that will be sold to raise money for local charitable causes.
Jim Pugh chairs the St. Stephen’s committee that helps make the annual market a reality. Pugh said he’s pleased a sense of normalcy will prevail downtown for the Peasant Market, which can yield $20,000 to $30,000 for such organizations as Addison Central Teens, Episcopal Relief & Development, Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, area homeless shelters, Middlebury Parks and Recreation, Open Door Clinic and Vermont Food Bank.
Pugh acknowledged drop-offs of stuff for the market flagged during the middle of last week, probably due to construction traffic issues and limited parking. The church added evening drop-off hours to compensate for the expected pre-market disruptions and donations are again on pace with past years, according to Pugh. Organizers will accept items at the church through July 1, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with some additional intake from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 29.
Pugh said that volunteers work to unload donations as quickly as possible and are willing to pick up larger items at donors’ homes.
Information about the festival is available at festivalonthegreen.org. Peasant Market information may be found at ststephensmidd.org. Middlebury Lion’s Club information is available at e-clubhouse.org/sites/middleburyvt.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com

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