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Sports center funding sought

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Town Meeting Day will be asked to add up to $100,000 to current debt for the Memorial Sports Center (MSC) in order to help pay for key, second-floor improvements to the community recreational facility on Buttolph Drive.
And MSC boosters stressed that local taxpayers won’t be asked to absorb any of the new debt, just as they haven’t been directly asked to foot any of the costs of the town-owned sports center, erected in 1993 thanks in part to generous donations and loans. The new debt will be added to an existing National Bank of Middlebury loan, held by the town, that the Friends of Middlebury Hockey are paying off through fundraising efforts, business sponsorships, donations and rental revenues from center users.
It was in 2007 that Middlebury voters allowed their selectboard to take out a 20-year, $700,000 loan from National Bank of Middlebury to finance improvements to the Memorial Sports Center. The 2007 project was designed to provide major upgrades to the rink, including on-site lockers rooms with showers, and a fit-out of a second floor for the facility. The Friends group, as of this week, had paid off $246,132 of the original $700,000 note, leaving a balance of $453,868.
Two years ago, Friends initiated a new, $350,000 project to finish the MSC’s second floor. That “Phase 2” effort will result in, among other things:
•  A heated viewing area for up to 150 spectators to comfortably view the rink action through 60 running feet of 8-foot-tall glass. The area will afford a mixture of seats and standing room.
•  Bathrooms for spectators. No longer will viewers have to trudge outside across the MSC property to use the pool house restrooms.
•  Free Wi-Fi.
•  Elevator access to the second floor.
•  An administrative office for rink staff.
•  A multi-purpose room for team meetings, community events, birthday parties, and more.
•  Improved concessions.
Boosters see these improvements as being critical to giving spectators basic amenities and a more comfortable viewing experience. And Friends of Middlebury Hockey President Michael McAuliffe noted the upgrades will be key in allowing the MSC to become a true, year-round facility that in 2020 is slated to host a new professional arena football team called the Vermont Brew (see related story on Page 1A).
“Right now what we’re trying to do is fulfill the original vision for MSC, getting it to a point where we wanted it to be when we first started working toward having this building,” McAuliffe said.
Friends of Middlebury Hockey has thus far received 311 pledges totaling $271,468 (with $229,521 of that collected) toward its $350,000 Phase 2 goal, leaving a shortfall of more than $78,500, according to Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay.
Major contributors have includes Middlebury Rotary and Lions clubs, and the National Bank of Middlebury.
Voters’ on Town Meeting Day will not only be asked to add another $90,000 to $100,000 to the original $700,000 loan, but also give the Friends group an additional five years in which to pay back the overall debt.
And the new funding would also allow MSC organizers to launch the Phase 2 improvements.
“We have very practical limitations on our accommodations for folks who are handicapped, folks who are elderly and folks with young kids,” McAuliffe said of current facilities. “Sitting in those cold, aluminum bleachers is not ideal for anyone in the middle of winter. Adding that heated second-floor space, with an elevator to get people up there, really takes us closer to being a candidate for a lot of different types of events.”
The Memorial Sports Center is currently home to all things Middlebury hockey, hosting scrimmages and games for area school teams, youth programs and adult enthusiasts of the sport. It also hosts the annual Middlebury Union High School graduation ceremony, basketball, lacrosse, a circus appearance, and other sporadic activities.
But MSC stewards want the building to be much more.
“I’d love to get curling going in there,” McAuliffe said as an example. “There’s so much potential for that building we have yet to tap.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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