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New Park Discussed at Community Forum

Laura Dillon

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On Monday, March 21, members of the Middlebury community met in Twilight Hall to hear the College’s plans for the development of a new park area where the town offices and municipal gym currently stand.

The meeting was led by Dave Donahue, who has been developing the plans for the park along with the help of the Public Park Advisory Group. Before presenting the plans, Donahue stressed that he hoped the meeting would be conversational and informal, rather than a lecture — an opportunity for the town members to say what they like and didn’t like about the proposal.

Donahue started by explaining that the advisory group had done research and brainstormed ideas for the area. These ideas were then synthesized to come up with a set of principles to guide the development of the park. Their principles included: to make use of natural topography, be family friendly, be different from other parks in town, to keep maintenance costs low, include a variety of seating, be safe, inviting, accessible, and easily navigable, to conserve historical markers, include shaded & sunny spaces, have appropriate infrastructure (such as lighting or Wi-Fi), include some flat spaces and to not include any built structure.

Donahue also explained how research shows that spaces that have not been well used can be reenergized by even small changes. He expressed that the College wishes for the park to be a space where the town and the college can meet and interact.

While the College does own the land, Donahue reassured one concerned town member that there would be no sign reading “Welcome to Middlebury College”. The space will be operated like a public park, and the College will be responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.

The attendees raised many suggestions, including implementing an ice rink in the winter, a commitment to native planting and public art. The question of some sort of focal point in the park was also discussed.

Many others raised concerns, including parking safety and wanting to know what exactly would differentiate this park from others in town and attract people to come. One attendee made the point that while cities need green spaces to “get away” and be alone, a town, especially Middlebury, has a need for more public spaces. He said there needs to be something exciting to draw both townspeople and students in.

Others were concerned that the triangle-shaped park’s corner is on the town end and feel the park will be “turning its back” on the town.  Donahue acknowledged this is a strategic space for both college and the town, and promised suggestions for a visitor’s center would be given full consideration in future meetings.

Donahue said he plans on holding a similar event later to get more students’ opinions, as well as perhaps two or three more events for the community members. After that, the Advisory Committee will discuss new suggestions and try to get to a final design that gets to as many ideas as possible. The final design will then go through a public review process in town.

The current timeline for the project calls for the plans to be finalized by May, the town offices to be razed in June, park construction to take place from late July through August, and completed in September. However, one of the town members present at the meeting urged Donahue and the College to not let the timeline dictate what happens, to take the time to figure things out, even if that requires waiting a year to “do it right.”

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The Student News Site of Middlebury College
New Park Discussed at Community Forum