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Artim to leave Middlebury selectboard after 12 years

Selectboard members “have varying views, but we’re all colleagues and friends, and we all know our reason for being there is for the betterment of the town and not for our own personal egos.”
— Nick Artim

MIDDLEBURY SELECTMAN NICK Artim will step down on March 1 after more than 12 very eventful years.

MIDDLEBURY — Nick Artim stepped onto Middlebury’s political stage a dozen years ago with a desire to do his civic duty and leave the community a better place for future generations.

He will step down from the Middlebury selectboard on March 1, having helped guide the town during a pandemic and an unparalleled investment in its municipal infrastructure.

Artim joined the selectboard in November of 2009, after a majority of the panel appointed him to serve the balance of a term vacated by then-Selectman Bill Perkins, who had moved to Colorado.

A nationally renowned fire protection engineer who’s helped safeguard some of America’s most important heritage sites, Artim’s skills have often come in handy for his hometown. His opinions have always been sought for municipal construction projects. He was a member of the committee that devised upgrades to the two Middlebury Fire Department buildings, and was part of an ad hoc panel that presented location options for the Cross Street Bridge.

So it’s no coincidence that bricks and mortar highlight Artim’s list of favorite board accomplishments. Among them:

  • In 2016, completion of the new, net-zero town offices at 77 Main St., and the new recreation facility on Creek Road. The town received a major financial contribution from Middlebury College toward the $7.5 million project, which included picking up and moving the Osborne House across the Otter Creek and demolishing the old municipal building at the intersection of College and South Main streets.

The town agreed to deed the former municipal building land to the college, which is now a public park. Some residents actively lobbied for the town offices to be rebuilt at their South Main Street location.

“It was not the easiest project,” Artim acknowledged, while sipping a coffee during a recent interview at Haymaker Buns. “But to be able to now go into a building that’s safe, clean, efficient and will be with us presumably for a long, long time, ranks high on my list.”

  • Major makeovers of the Middlebury fire stations on Seymour and East Main streets.

Artim noted a group of Middlebury College students assisted the town in narrowing down the best station locations. And those spots turned out to be pretty much where they’ve always been — a testament to past planning efforts.

  • Completion of the Cross Street Bridge in 2010, at a cost of $16 million. The bridge continues to provide a critical second crossing of the Otter Creek.
  • The recently completed downtown rail tunnel project, which supplants two decaying, 1920s-era bridges. Middlebury has also netted the new downtown Lazarus Park, an expanded Triangle Park, new sidewalks and other amenities that were part of the tunnel project.

None of the aforementioned tasks were completed without some dissension among board members and citizens. But in the end, the majority made their preferences known at the ballot box and people on opposing sides sorted out their differences, Artim said.

“At the end of the day, civility rises and we were successful,” he said. “(Board members) have varying views, but we’re all colleagues and friends, and we all know our reason for being there is for the betterment of the town and not for our own personal egos.”

Ironically, Artim’s primary goal for Middlebury back then remains his biggest hope as he prepares to exit town politics: Promoting economic development and creation of new, good-paying jobs to attract more families to Addison County’s shire town.

“The thing I regret that we haven’t nailed yet is really the whole aspect of economic development,” Artim said.

Artim was the lone dissenter when the selectboard axed its “Office of Business Development & Innovation” around five years ago. The board had created that office — staffed by Jamie Gaucher — to aggressively woo prospective employers to Middlebury. But after giving it a four-year run, a majority of the board believed the office wasn’t paying enough dividends to justify its $180,000 annual expense, which was shared by the town, Middlebury College, and the business community.

“Economic development is a slow, arduous process; it’s not instant gratification,” Artim said in reiterating his belief the town pulled the plug too soon.

Creating more local industry and jobs, Artim believes, will be key if the town is to solve some of its other major challenges, which include filling the public school system with more children to stem the tide on declining enrollment, and developing more workforce housing.

NEXT GENERATION

Young people love Vermont and want to be here, Artim believes. But they need some inducements to make the transition — including a more vibrant social scene and mortgages they can afford.

“It’s a matter of creating what’s important to that next generation,” he said, noting, “it’s the generation we’re handing this town over to. Let’s ask ‘What’s important to them,’ not (hold on to) biases or preferences we’ve had.”

When Artim began his selectboard career in 2009, Middlebury officials were still hoping to land big-time employers. The community has since recalibrated its expectations.

“We’re never going to have the large industrial plant; that’s not going to fit here, and logistically it’s not a place where it’s going to happen,” Artim said. “But we can have centers for research and development, and centers for prototype manufacturing.”

He remains optimistic that Middlebury will make more strides in the specialty foods realm, having already carved out a niche in spirits, beer, cider and award winning cheese.

“We can lead — not only as a town, but as a county,” Artim said.

Someone who saw the value of Artim’s work up close is current selectboard Chair Brian Carpenter, who got coaching from Artim on how small town governance works.

“He always did homework on issues to understand other points of view and weighed arguments carefully,” Carpenter said of Artim. “As such, Middlebury was incredibly well served by Nick throughout his tenure. His engineer focus and experience in emergency management were valuable in deliberations. Nick leaves big shoes to fill and will be missed.”

Artim won’t be part of that leadership going forward, but he’ll be available to pitch in here and there. He had planned to leave the selectboard three years ago, but wanted to see through the tunnel project. He believes it’s time to let someone else serve in the role. Meanwhile, Artim will be spending a lot of time traveling for his job, including a 10-week stint each year as a fire protection engineer at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Asked what he’s enjoyed most about his time on the board, Artim quickly replied, “making a difference. We know we live in a great town, and it didn’t become a great town by accident. It’s happened by people working together.”

John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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