Thursday, September 21, 2000

Fire damages old courthouse

Published in the Addison Independent

MIDDLEBURY - A fire at Middlebury College's Center for Educational Technology closed sections of Court Square Monday afternoon. The center, which has been undergoing restoration, caught fire in the cupola of the landmark building, which was the Addison County Courthouse through 1995.

Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole said he understood the fire had started when painters were peeling paint with heat guns as part of the restoration work. He said the fire, which was the first in the building in at least 25 years, was fairly small but complicated due to the structure and the new construction.

"You have to take it slow and easy," Cole said.

The freshly restored cupola roof, completed just days before the fire, proved an obstacle to the firefighters because of the newness of the construction.

Cole called out most of the Middlebury Fire Department to fight the fire. He said the New Haven Fire Department was called to assist at the scene as well as to cover the Middlebury station while the department was at the old courthouse. When he decided he wanted an additional ladder truck, Cole called Vergennes, which responded with the one ladder truck requested.

Cole said there were no injuries to firefighters. Damage to equipment in the high-tech building was also minimal.

Inside the building, the firefighters had covered computers and office desks with plastic, which saved most of the computers from water damage resulting from the firefighters and sprinkler system.

A couple of offices in the front of the building were destroyed by water damage, but the main teaching spaces and most offices were damp but not seriously affected, according to Marsha DeBonis, assistant director of Project 2001, the college organization that occupies the building.

"We're trying to dry things out," DeBonis said. "The front offices got hit badly."

The offices will be repaired within 10 days, DeBonis said. The computer equipment was working well, she said.

"Everything came back up (Tuesday) morning beautifully," DeBonis said. "It could have been a lot worse."