MIDDLEBURY — A committee charged with planning Middlebury’s new recreation center expects to decide by Dec. 10 whether to recommend the town build the facility off Mary Hogan Drive as originally proposed, or designate a 2.4-acre parcel off Creek Road as the new preferred site.
The steering committee, led by Middlebury Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Malcolm, met with UD-3 school officials this past Wednesday to begin discussions about potential use of the Creek Road parcel to host an 11,400-square-foot recreation center. The property was once home to Middlebury American Legion Post 27, which sold the real estate to the UD-3 school district in 2000 for $275,000. The land currently hosts the former Legion hall, a parking lot and a Little League field.
It has emerged as a candidate to host the new recreation center in light of the ID-4 school board’s concerns about the leading site, located off Mary Hogan Drive. ID-4 board directors have control over what may be built on that site, and they have expressed concerns about the new building’s potential impact on parking, traffic circulation and other activities at the neighboring Mary Hogan Elementary School.
But the building proposal is getting a much better reception from UD-3 officials. The UD-3 facilities committee on Nov. 20 presented the district’s priorities if a recreation center were to be built at Creek Road. Those priorities, according to facilities committee Chairwoman Lucy Schumer, include:
• Demolition of the unused Legion hall, which is deteriorating. Demolition and removal costs for the structure were placed at $65,000 four years ago. Supporters would like to see the recreation center built within the footprint of the Legion hall.
• Having a shelter for athletes during storms. Athletes currently have to huddle in the softball field dugouts during a lightning storm.
• Including men’s and women’s locker rooms into the recreation center design. Current plans call for men’s and women’s restrooms, with a shower in each. There are currently no changing rooms at the Creek Road location for high school athletes who use the surrounding Middlebury College-owned playing fields. Schumer said the locker rooms would provide an important amenity that the district could underwrite. This would mean pitching a bond or other financing mechanism to voters in UD-3-member towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge next March.
This would divide the locker room costs among people in six area towns in addition to Middlebury. Malcolm believes that would be a fair proposition.
“I look at the recreation center as a regional facility,” Malcolm said. “Middlebury taxpayers are asked to pay for a lot for the whole region; this would be a great way to involve the other communities.”
Schumer said locker rooms would not likely be a deal-breaker. If Middlebury decides this isn’t the time to incorporate that element, unfinished space could perhaps be budgeted to add that amenity sometime down the road, she said.
While she is looking forward to hearing more details about the Creek Road site, Malcolm believes it is showing more promise than the Mary Hogan Drive location.
“It has expansion possibilities,” she said, looking into the distant future. “And I see the parking as less problematic.”
Leonard Barrett is chairman of the UD-3 board and a member of its facilities committee. He, too, is taking a shine to the Creek Road option.
“I personally think it’s perfect for the (recreation center),” Barrett said. “A lot of sports are played over there. There is a lot of parking and room to grow, if they have to.”
Bread Loaf Corp., which is assisting Middlebury in planning the new recreation center as well as new town offices, will spend the coming days looking at the logistics of the Creek Road site, as well as estimating the costs of new locker rooms and other project facts and figures, according to Malcolm. The steering committee will review that information at its next meeting, on Dec. 3. The panel would revisit the topic on the morning of Dec. 10, if need be, in order to recommend a preferred recreation center site to the selectboard at its next meeting, on the evening of Dec. 10.
If the Creek Road parcel comes out on top, the UD-3 board would begin discussing that proposal at its Dec. 18 meeting. If the UD-3 board were to give its consent to use of the property, it would then determine what kind of financial request to make of district voters to subsidize the locker rooms.
The Middlebury selectboard has tentatively set March 4 for a vote on the recreation center and new town offices. The new municipal offices would be built at 77 Main St., in place of Middlebury College’s Osborne House, which would be moved to a town-owned parcel off Cross Street. The college has offered a total of $5.5 million in exchange for the current town offices/gym site at the intersection of College and South Main streets. Plans call for that property to be cleared and turned into a public park. The Middlebury selectboard wants to see the recreation center and town offices built within a total budget of $7.5 million.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]