By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY —Middlebury selectmen will hire a consultant to assess the current space woes besetting the local fire, public works and municipal offices, and determine whether some of those services could be accommodated on the former wastewater treatment plant property off Seymour Street.
The former wastewater treatment plant, now relegated to a pump station, sits on 12.5 acres of town-owned land. It currently hosts the Middlebury Police Department and a small cluster of buildings — including a garage — that are no longer used by the sewer department and are now falling into disrepair.
Town officials want to determine whether any of those former treatment plant buildings can be salvaged for storage of municipal equipment, and whether it would make sense to consider some kind of new structure there to alleviate the space crunch some town departments are now experiencing.
The consultant will also look at the potential of other town-owned land, and perhaps private property, that could meet municipal space needs, according to Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger.
Middlebury has $35,000 set aside in its capital budget to pay for the study, Finger noted.
“We want to take into account the space needs of the town and look at the potential to accommodate those needs on property already owned by the town, then look elsewhere,” Finger said.
Middlebury’s fire department needs are already well documented. While there is decent meeting space in the department’s headquarters at 5 Seymour Street, the building is having an increasingly tough time housing the force’s vehicles. Fire Chief Rick Cole explained the northern section of the building was erected during the 1930s, while the southern portion was added during the 1970s. Planners back then could not have envisioned the size of today’s firefighting vehicles.
Cole noted there are only a few inches to spare when the larger vehicles squeeze into the bay doors.
“There is no room to work on the vehicles inside,” Cole added.
Things aren’t much better at the department’s East Middlebury station, which is also cramped and in need of a new roof.
While the department may be able to get by with its current facilities in the near future, 2013 is looming as a year of reckoning. That’s because Middlebury’s vehicle replacement schedule calls for a new ladder truck in 2013 and “I don’t believe you could buy a ladder truck now that could fit into the station,” Cole said.
Meanwhile, the Middlebury Department of Public Works (DPW) is looking for more space to keep its vehicles under cover during bad weather. Of particular concern is the storage shed off Route 7 south in which the DPW now stores three water department trucks, a road grader, three highway vehicles and other equipment. The shed is supported by wooden poles and has a gravel floor, noted Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner. It harbors moisture that can lead to corrosion of the vehicles that are housed there, he said.
The main DPW garage has reached its capacity, according to Werner.
“We’re pretty crowded here,” Werner said.
Selectman Dean George, chairman of Middlebury’s public works committee, said the town’s municipal building on South Main Street also needs to be reviewed for renovations or potential replacement. Townspeople in 2002 voted 1,443-1,334 against a $6 million plan that would have provided for a new, 13,982-square-foot, two-story municipal office building attached to a renovated municipal gym at the current site. The plan also called for a new, 8,500-square-foot police headquarters off Seymour Street. Voters subsequently endorsed the new police station.
George explained deficiencies in the building are costing Middlebury taxpayers a lot of money. He specifically cited porous windows in the municipal gym. While those windows will soon be replaced, George said the community must soon make some decisions about the future of the current town offices.
“I don’t know how much longer we can continue throwing money into that building,” George said.
George doesn’t envision the town shifting the town offices from South Main Street. That means working within the confines of the current site.
Town officials hope to hire a consultant to complete the space needs assessment before the end of this year, so the results are available as selectmen prepare next year’s budget.