Monday, February 24, 1997

Opinion: Help the Environmental Center

Published in the Mountainview

Residents of the town of Middlebury have a unique opportunity. The Environmental Council has invited all who are interested to participate in the planning process for a new Environmental Center to be sited west of campus, in the fields south of the Harris Farm.

College faculty and staff are also invited, as are any residents of the county who are interested in the planning process and in this project.

College Environmental Coordinator Jen Hazen has said that anyone, no matter how mild their interest, should attend the brainstorming meeting on March 1 from 4 to 9 pm, in Weybridge House. Dinner will be served.
The basic concept for the new center is a multidisciplinary focus on living and learning. It will be guided by a College-wide determination to teach citizenship, as well as environmental studies. The Center as currently imagined, according to Hazen, will house residences, dining area, seminar and lecture space, and adjoin gardens and cultivated fields west of campus. A collaborative effort of students, staff, faculty, administrators, and area residents will be needed to ensure the success of the Center.

A place which will welcome all comers is badly needed on campus; local residents, faculty, staff, students, and administrators will, Hazen hopes, come together in the space all will help design, to learn about the environment and interrelationships in the world outside of Middlebury.

This is a rare opportunity for residents to have input before a decision is needed from a town governing body. It is something which all residents should both appreciate and take part in. The College rarely opens its house to the world; for it to do so now is a tacit admission of its need for assistance and guidance in this challenging time in the College's history.

Hazen welcomes letters, telephone calls, or other methods of communication and input as well. Participation in this dialogue, on the part of all residents, faculty, and staff, is voluntary but is governed by the moral imperative of involvement in one's own community. This is a chance like none before; if the opening is not productive, it is even less likely to happen again.

Now is an excellent time to act. This community speaks with many voices when it comes to the future of the College, and its relationship with the town and residents. Now is a time when the College is opening itself to positive input and constructive criticism about the process of planning this Environmental Center. It will be, more than any other part of the College (save perhaps the Arts Center), a resource for the public as well as for the College. We residents must participate in this process to ensure we get something we can use.

The College wants to give us something for free. All we need to do is offer our input at this stage, and through the planning process for this Center. What we get, at the end, is a facility which will be as much ours as the effort we put into it, as much ours as it is the College's. If, however, we neglect to participate, not only will we lose a golden (and once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity, we will be left on the outside of this new Environmental Center, wondering what could have been.