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Gailer School Considering Property In Industrial Park

Tuesday February 12, 2008

By Dale Piper

   On Monday evening the Middlebury Planning and Zoning Board, along with several business owners, will be considering the purchase of the Mainelli building on Pond Lane by the Gailer School.  The private secondary school, currently occupying space in the Unitarian-Universalist Society building on Cross and Water Streets has been searching for a permanent home since they moved back to Middlebury from Shelburne.  The school was originally founded in what was the St. Mary's School building and moved shortly thereafter to Shelburne Commons.  Wanting to return to Middlebury, they have been sharing space on a temporary basis, and have been searching since 2006 for a permanent site.  The church is building a new facility on Charles Avenue, but that isn't really the driving force behind the Gailer move.  Gailer intended a short stay at the present location all along.

    According to Dutton Smith, chair of the school's Site Committee, they have looked at several sites, but none proved suitable without major redesign and renovation work, which in most cases was beyond the school's budget.  Recently they expressed interest in the Mainelli building in the Middlebury Industrial Park, which according to Smith, suits the school's needs with minimal changes.  “The rooms are large and they layout is very … flexible. The size is 6000 square feet, plenty for our current student population of 30, yet large enough to allow twice that many.  It is totally wired for computer networks and the lighting is very good. There are two fire rated stairways that allow safe egress from either side of the building and most of the building is completely handicap accessible.”

    However, a number of business owners based in the Industrial Park have strong objections to the property being used as a school.  The reasons include heavy truck and bus traffic, the lack of sidewalks and the proximity of the school to a pond and large sand and gravel piles.  They feel, unanimously, that it is an inappropriate use of Industrial Park property. Theo Lowell, representing D&F Paving, said “What would the town say if we proposed an asphalt plant in a school zone?”  Fred Dunnington, Middlebury's Planning and Zoning Administrator, said that the Planning Commission also has some concerns, but that there have been no difficulties with the two school campuses located nearby: the Hannaford Career Center's North Campus, which is in the Industrial Park and Bridge School, which is not actually in the Park but nearby, and also has heavy traffic and no sidewalks.  

    Regarding the appropriateness of the use of the Mainelli Building, Smith pointed out that “it has always been an office use, not industrial, and the shape and slope of the lot is such that it would not be conducive to a warehouse or manufacturing facility.” The school is willing to sign an agreement not to contest new industry in the park if the school should locate there.  As Smith says, “If some really nasty, smelly or noisy industry is proposed, there will be plenty of others opposing it.”  He doesn't feel that the risks cited by the business owners will be problems at all.  He has also spoken with all of the parents of Gailer students and they have no objection to the site, expressing that the traffic issues downtown far outweigh any at the proposed site.  Smith also points out the amount of office properties in the park as opposed to the industrial businesses, which seem to pose no problem to the many pedestrians, many of whom are office workers who walk on breaks and before and after business hours.

   According to Tony Neri President of Middlebury Industrial Development corporation the industrial park is zoned for industry.  “It is a huge safety issue, there are at least 88 trucks per day, 100 trailers, and 60 busses and it is no place for a school”

   The issue will be heard on February 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Middlebury Municipal Building.       


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