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Bridge School bids farewell to iconic silo

CHRIS MURRAY GOT a lift to enable him, and Olivia Lane, to paint a mural on the silo at Middlebury’s Bridge School in July 2018. This week the deteriorating silo was dismantled for safety reasons.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — For around 70 years, the proud old farm silo standing near the intersection of Route 7 and Exchange Street served as a familiar, friendly beacon to those entering and exiting Middlebury’s northern gateway. The 80-foot-tall granary improbably survived decades of brutal winds, heavy snowfall, cascading rains, and even the seemingly inexorable retreat of the family farm, which divorced the silo from its true raison d’être.

It remained a beloved, if not superfluous addition to a main building that over time transitioned from farm to mini shopping mall to a private school. Folks at the Bridge School embraced the silo, which since 2018 has borne a wonderfully painted visage that’s given students, parents, staff and passersby an extra greeting on their way to and from work.

Alas, while the colorful silo seemed sturdy to the naked eye, a recent inspection revealed signs of distress, noted Jen Grilly, chief administrator of the Bridge School, an independent institution that educates kids in kindergarten through 6th grade. The silo is made up of scores of concrete blocks, each roughly 18 inches long and 12 inches wide.

“A parent pointed out some cracks in the side, and the bricks at the top were starting to crumble. So, we had a structural engineer come out and assess it,” Grilly said late last week.

The engineer gave a sobering report.

“It’s bowing in the center and is also caving in at the bottom,” a dejected Grilly said. “It’s missing stabilization rings around it, which have popped over the years. It’s gotten to the end of its life.”

Bottom line: The silo needed to be removed before potentially becoming a danger to the school children over which it has stood vigil.

“We talked to folks about whether we could save it,” Grilly said. “You could put some money into saving it by stabilizing it, but it wasn’t going to be a long-term solution. We’d be putting off the inevitable. It really needed to come down.”

Bridge School officials contacted Nop’s Metalworks, which dismantled and removed the silo this week. Work began Monday, Feb. 19, which was the beginning of February break. Plans called for the silo remnants to be cleared from campus by the start of school on Monday, Feb. 26.

FOLKS FROM NOP’S Metalworks were busy this week dismantling and removing the former 80-foot-tall, 70-year-old silo that was a popular feature of the Bridge School and a local landmark for those entering and exiting Middlebury’s northern gateway.
Independent photo/Steve James

It’s the wisest, safest, and really only course of action, officials acknowledged. But it comes with some pain.

“It’s one of the saddest days in Bridge School history,” Grilly said of silo’s demise.

AFTER NOP’S METALWORKS took down the 70-year-old silo in front of the Bridge School early this week, somebody rescued and stacked the formerly 80-foot-tall structure’s intact cement bricks. The colorful keepsakes will be sold to raise funds for a gazebo at the school just off Exchange Street in Middlebury.
Independent photo/Steve James

DIFFERENT AND SAME 

Generations of Bridge School alums will take the silo loss particularly hard, as will artist Chris Murray, who designed the delightful faces that adorned the silo. Murray (also dad to a Bridge School alum) and Olivia Lane (class of 2011) painted the faces for free in July 2018.

The painting was about more than just pretty faces; Murray and Lane created it to symbolize that “we are all different and we are all the same, every day.”

“This mural brought so much joy to our community and visitors to the area,” reads a Bridge School letter to the stakeholders, informing them of the difficult silo decision. “This image will hold a special place in our community and hearts forever. Thank you, Chris and Olivia, for this wonderful gift.”

While removed, the silo continues to give to the Bridge School community.

Nop workers have salvaged the metal top to the silo, which will be repurposed as a cap to a new gazebo that’ll take the silo’s place on the Bridge School campus. Some of the rescued, intact cement bricks will be sold and/or auctioned off to raise funds for the gazebo, a spot for students to perhaps contemplate the agricultural pillar that once towered over their campus and caressed Middlebury’s rural skyline.

The gazebo is being designed by current student Maxwell Newton, with input from current students and staff.

“The silo is a big part of the charm of Bridge School and we will miss it, but replacing it with a gazebo will be a net positive for the students” reads a statement from the Bridge School board. “It will allow more sunlight into the classrooms and will be an inviting gathering and learning spot for the school community.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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