By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) is seeking permission to build a new, 11,860-square-foot headquarters on a one-acre site just north of Porter Medical Center.
The new, $1.5 million facility would relieve cramped conditions at the MVAA’s current headquarters off Elm Street and give the growing organization room to expand in the future.
Middlebury College owns the land on which the new building would be built. Plans call for the college to lease the property to the MVAA, which would build a structure that would include a four-bay garage to accommodate up to eight emergency response vehicles; a conference room; a training room; a second-floor storage area; offices; changing rooms; sleeping quarters for up to eight workers; kitchen facilities; an exercise room; and a future dispatching office.
The land slated for the new headquarters currently serves as an emergency helicopter-landing site. That site would be temporarily relocated on the Porter campus.
Dispatching for the MVAA is currently done through Porter Hospital. Bill Edson, executive director of the MVAA, explained that there may come a time when the ambulance association will have to do its own dispatching.
“By building in a dispatching office, it will make that transition a lot easier,” said Edson, who anticipates the new headquarters will meet the MVAA’s needs for at least the next 50 years.
The organization has grown in recent years, mostly due to increasing calls for service. Edson said the organization is on target to answer upwards of 2,000 calls this year, which would be the most in the MVAA’s 30-year history.
The MVAA currently has 13 paid staff (seven of which are full-time); three paramedics; and 47 volunteers who Edson said provide invaluable service, particularly on weekends and during the evenings.
Ambulance association officials have been looking for an expansion site for the better part of 10 years. The MVAA’s Elm Street spot is a former home with inadequate parking for members’ personal vehicles, as well as for the organization’s current fleet of four ambulances, heavy rescue vehicle and mass-casualty trailer. The organization plans to add, within the coming year, a utility vehicle.
Officials had previously considered expansion sites off Exchange Street and Lucius Shaw Lane. But they believe they have found a winner in the 1-acre parcel off South Street.
Edson said the MVAA invited South Street residents to two informational meetings this past summer focusing on the proposed project. Residents who attended those meetings asked questions relating to traffic and on-site activities. The MVAA commissioned a traffic study, done by Resource Systems Group Inc. That study acknowledges that while MVAA staff and volunteers will need to travel along South Street to get to the new headquarters, ambulance trips on the street are expected to decrease by 300 trips per year. The reason: Trips between the new MVAA headquarters, the hospital, the helicopter landing area and Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center will all become internal within the greater Porter campus.
Edson believes the new location will give the MVAA “a better center-point from which to respond to calls.” He noted 46 percent of the organization’s calls come from west of the Otter Creek, in the direction of Shoreham and Orwell. Being near Porter Hospital will enhance response time by as much as five minutes to those areas, according to Edson, who does not anticipate a “significant slowdown to the other side of town.”
The MVAA can cover half of the estimated $1.5 million project costs with savings the organization has socked away over the years for this very purpose. The organization will apply the proceeds from the eventual sale of the Elm Street property to the project and seek a bank loan to cover the rest. The MVAA will, when the economy gets better, embark on a fund-raising campaign to raise money to cover its bank loan.
“We hope to break ground in the spring and move in a year from now,” Edson said.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the MVAA headquarters is an allowable use in the town’s institutional zoning district, where the Porter campus is located. The town’s development review board is tentatively scheduled to take its first look at the plans on Dec. 22, at which time South Street residents and other townspeople will be able to formally weigh in on the proposal.