Editorial: Consider the nut of the question about Ilsley improvements

Very few things worth accomplishing come without substantial effort. That’s most easily seen on a personal level. Whether it’s a do-it-yourself home improvement project, passing a test at school or advancement at work, a personal best in some athletic or physical goal, or a career ladled with honors, the effort spent to accomplish any goal gives meaning, purpose and satisfaction to the achievement.


The same can be applied to communities, though getting everyone to agree on the same priorities can be a challenge.

Middlebury has witnessed many significant challenges and accomplishments over the past two decades: relocating and building a new wastewater treatment plant; rebuilding the police and fire department buildings (and the town shed on Route 7 south before that); building the Cross Street Bridge; siting and building a new municipal building and creating what was at the time a controversial roundabout, as well as a new park where the old building (the former high school) stood (all of which now receive lavish praise); and most recently replacing the two decaying railway underpasses on Main Street and Merchant Row and renovating Triangle Park with a railway tunnel that has turned that part of the Town Green into a well-used, aesthetically pleasing park with dynamic uses. Add the renovations of the Town Hall Theater, Lazarus Park at the top of Printer’s Alley (leading into the Marble Works), and Riverside Park along the Otter Creek to the footbridge, and we realize how these systematic improvements have led to a dramatic improvement of Middlebury’s downtown.

Along the way there have significant costs and controversy, spurring many battles, but the town persevered and the results — taken as a whole — have been exciting, game-changing in many ways, and overwhelmingly positive, even if not always perfect.

It’s an apt definition of progress.

The proposed reimagining of Middlebury’s Ilsley Library presents the next challenge — and opportunity — for the town.

That more than 225 people attended last Wednesday’s two-hour presentation by three architectural firms on how they might renovate the facility is encouraging. It shows a high level of community interest and a solid core of supporters. And few residents disagree with the intent: the need to renovate the 100-year-old building is undisputed to anyone who has taken a tour of the facility over the past few years.

But as Selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said at Wednesday’s gathering, the estimated $15 million price tag will be an issue. It was a statement meant to bring that hard reality into a meeting that was otherwise filled with excitement and promise.

No doubt the renovation and expansion will be a hefty lift. Not included in that amount, however, will be reductions from grants being sought, a fund-raising campaign, and any other financing that can be finagled. Those numbers will be known later this fall and a closer dollar amount to raise through taxation will be presented before a bond vote is set for the March 2024 Town Meeting.

Leading up to that vote, the nut of the question is this: Is the benefit to the community worth the sacrifice? It’s up to the library board and promoters to make that case in the affirmative; for the selectboard to remind us of equally pressing obligations; and for residents to define the community aesthetic they want to embrace. Let’s engage in that conversation with open minds, a sense of imagination and opportunity, and understanding of the impacts all around.

— Angelo Lynn

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