Leader who transformed Middlebury Rec. Dept. lands a new job

MIDDLEBURY — Terri Arnold’s love for Vermont and her eagerness to take on a challenge were what motivated her to take the helm of the Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department in late 2012.
A little more than five years later, Arnold, 60, has placed the department on a solid foundation in a brand new recreation facility.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Arnold will be leaving Middlebury at the end of this month to pursue a new professional challenge clear across the country. She’ll soon become deputy director of parks, recreation and cultural services for the city of Edmonds in Washington state, where she spent most of her life prior to her arrival in Middlebury.
“After five years, I believe I have accomplished what I had in mind for Middlebury,” Arnold said during an interview on Thursday. “I think it’s time for somebody else to take the department to the next level.”
Indeed, there was really nowhere to go but “up” for Middlebury Parks & Rec when Arnold took the helm.
The department was crammed into a corner of the former Middlebury municipal building at 94 South Main St.
“When I was given my first tour of that building, I simply couldn’t believe it,” Arnold recalled of the worn-out old town offices, which had served as Middlebury High School until a fire gutted the top floor during the 1950s.
“When I was shown my office and what I had to do to clean it, it was even more frightening,” she said with a smile. “But in spite of things, you move forward.”
Her old office, which she had inherited from her predecessor Tom Anderson, was dank, dusty and had tiles that were peeling away from the floor.
“My office was at one end of the building, and the (former) gym was at the other end,” she said.
Middlebury Parks & Rec offered around 10 solid programs when Arnold arrived. There are now more than 50, according to Arnold, who credited the community and her small staff for helping her bump up the offerings.
When Arnold arrived, recreation programs Coordinator Dustin Hunt was a part-timer. She successfully lobbied for Hunt to become a full-time employee with benefits. Increased offerings and related revenue have allowed the recreation department to add a part-time assistant program coordinator, Brian Hald.
Arnold as a newcomer was stunned to see Middlebury hadn’t yet transitioned to online registration for its programs. Folks were queuing up in interminable lines to sign themselves or their kids up for seasonal recreation activities.
That quickly changed under Arnold’s leadership. Within six months, people could register electronically for recreation programs. She partnered with the Addison Independent on publication of the department’s activities guide.
“There was a lot happening to put the foundation in place for what I was planning as a premier parks & recreation department,” Arnold said.
Less than a year into her tenure, town officials began planning in earnest for a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation facility off Creek Road. Arnold joined the building committee that would spend months assisting architects and the selectboard in designing the two spaces. After an at-times polarizing debate and two townwide votes, workers in 2016 completed the pair of new structures.
The new, 11,500-square-foot recreation center includes an addition with changing rooms and showers for school sports teams. It also includes a multi-purpose room housing programs for local seniors who used to meet in the Russ Sholes center in the old Municipal Building, which has been torn down.
Clearly, the new center has been instrumental in allowing the department to grow and embrace new trends and community requests for recreation. For example, the cavernous gym includes two painted pickleball courts. Some Middlebury officials were skeptical about committing such space to the game, in which participants use paddles to volley a perforated plastic ball back and forth. It is a hybrid sport that is equal parts Ping-Pong and tennis.
Arnold was one of handful of serious pickleball players in Middlebury five years ago. More than 150 regulars now compete in a series of pickleball contests held at the recreation center from October to April. Participants shift to outdoor courts at the rec park during the summer.
And it’s not just pickleball. Show up at the recreation center at any point during the week, and you’ll witness a beehive of activity. There’s Zumba, unicycling, chess, “Tot Time” for kiddies, tai chai, a Bone Builders class, swing dance, yoga, dancing, gymnastics, basketball and a bevy of other happenings. A full list of programs can be found at middleburyparksandrec.org.
“It’s almost impossible to book time in our gym,” Arnold said. “Since we moved into this building, we’ve been able to offer programs to every age on the spectrum.”
With the closing last year of Whirlie’s World, a family fun space off Exchange Street, Middlebury residents have been increasingly looking for entertainment at the recreation center, according to Arnold. For a nominal fee, families can hold a birthday party at the center and have access to play spaces for a couple of hours. This has in turn provided an additional revenue stream to help sustain recreation department services.
Last October, the “Milk & Honey Quilt Show’ rented almost every inch of space at the center for a big show, and plans on doing so again next fall.
Arnold wasn’t actively seeking to relocate, but she’s always enjoyed browsing through job postings in the recreation industry. She became intrigued upon seeing the opening in Edmonds. She used to live in Langley, Wash., where she served as director of South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District on Whidbey Island. Arnold knows some of the people with which she will be working in Edmonds, and still has family and friends in Washington.
“I have the background, skills and ability to do the (Edmonds) job,” she said.
Asked what she’ll miss most about Middlebury, she replied “The people.” A gregarious, energetic and positive person, Arnold bonded with many of the folks she served. She’s going through a ton of emails from locals thanking her for her service in Middlebury and wishing her the best in Washington.
Hunt was among Arnold’s many well-wishers. He thanked her for helping change his status to full-time and for being a friendly, solid and attentive manager.
“Terri has been an absolute pleasure to work with; she has always been a team leader,” Hunt said. “She’s been an amazing leader, and even better friend to me. We’re going to miss her, but look forward to visiting her out on the West Coast.”
Hunt is interested in applying for Arnold’s job. Arnold has endorsed him.
Greg Boglioli is chairman of the Middlebury’s recreation committee. He agreed Arnold is leaving some big shoes to fill.
“I think the town of Middlebury owes a lot to Terri, as far as raising up parks and rec in this town to where it is well-respected and well-used,” Boglioli said. “I think the people of Middlebury will miss her greatly. She really connected well with the people here.”
Were she not leaving, Arnold’s next major goal for parks and rec would have been to lobby for improvements to the municipal pool. She praised the town for having invested in the pool’s heating system and other aspects of its operation, but believes the facility should be covered — with either a bubble or a building — and endowed with some new amenities (like a slide) to make it a year-round draw. Arnold said renewed interest in the pool would generate sufficient revenues to pay off the capital debt and ultimately generate new resources for the facility.
Arnold plans on returning in the future to see how things have changed.
“I’ll be back to visit — probably as a leaf-peeper,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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