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2020 Update #43

Construction Activity Intensifies as We Pass the Halfway Point

The Highlights

  • Laying the groundwork for healthy trees and new lighting downtown

  • Last of the precast pieces leaves Fifield Farm

On Monday this week we passed the halfway point of this summer’s construction.

The rail tunnel is in, central downtown is being rebuilt from the ground up, and the project remains on schedule to reopen Main Street and Merchants Row to thru traffic and the downtown rail line to freight traffic by Monday, September 21.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to get us there and if you’ve been downtown this week you’ve no doubt seen the flurry of activity taking place on Main Street and Merchants Row.

Continuous truckloads of backfill material have been threading their way through the Marble Works and the public parking in front of the Post Office. Thank you for your patience if you’ve had to maneuver in and around all the activity by car or on foot and please do stay alert to the construction activity while you’re downtown.

With work progressing on several fronts simultaneously, let’s first review as we did last week what’s happening “above ground” to restore central downtown and then look at the work taking place “below ground” to prepare for an operational rail tunnel.

Rebuilding Central Downtown

This week we took two big steps toward completing construction downtown.

First, Kubricky removed the downtown sidewalks in front of the Battell building on Merchants Row, on Main Street between Sweet Cecily and the National Bank, in front of St. Stephen’s on Main Street, and on the Town Green side of the upper stretch of Merchants Row. These will all be replaced with new sidewalks and granite curbs.

Once the sidewalks were removed, Kubricky installed bases for the new light poles downtown along with conduit to carry the electrical lines between those bases. The electrical work is being done by East View Electrical Services, an electrical contractor out of Bristol. You can see conduit being laid alongside the Town Green in the photo below.

The second and perhaps most intriguing aspect of this week’s work involved installation of the underground tree cells that will provide a healthy environment for root growth of the trees that will be planted in our new concrete sidewalks. This work is being done by Landshapes, a landscape design and installation company out of Richmond VT.

You can get a sense of how tree cells work in the “before and after” photos below.

Sets of hollow plastic columns are secured in compacted stone and then surrounded with uncompacted soil. Above the columns will sit several inches of compacted stone and on top of that concrete sidewalk slabs will be installed. The trees themselves are planted in the open rectangular spaces.

The tree cell configuration allows a tree’s roots to expand underground through the uncompacted soil. As you may know, a healthy tree’s roots typically expand to the same width as its canopy.

If you’re curious, the three trees to be planted in front of the Battell Block are Sienna Glen Maples. Along the perimeter of Triangle Park will be planted three more maples as well as three Honey Locusts.

Once the tree cells are ready to go in front of the Battell Block and alongside Triangle Park, Waters Excavation out of Perkinsville VT will install granite curbing to mark the limits of pavement and then pour new concrete sidewalks. It looks like we’re still about two weeks off from finishing that work.

In the meantime, as I mentioned last week, Sabai Sabai is open for curbside pick-up, Sweet Cecily and Edgewater Gallery are open, the ATM at the National Bank is accessible, and Main Street Stationery and Vermont Book Shop are both doing curbside service, the latter at Stone Mill.

Elsewhere in central downtown, the concrete deck for the section of Main Street that will cross the rail tunnel (you can see that in the first photo above) was poured early Saturday morning as planned and is now covered and curing.

Rail Corridor Work

The precast concrete at Fifield Farm is pretty thinned out now and Kubricky expects to set the final upper wall pieces north of Main Street on Thursday evening. Once those are in and secured to the bottom panels via the green threaded rods you may have noticed sticking out of the upper panels, Kubricky will begin forming up the “cap wall.”

The cap wall is a gradually sloped concrete wall roughly one foot high that provides a finished top to the precast north and south of the tunnel. Decorative railing will sit on top of the cap wall. I’ll have photos of this operation once we get underway.

ECI shifted its work to the north end this week, backfilling the excavated space between the rail tunnel and the steel sheets and assembling the north end retaining wall, which begins at the old at-grade crossing off Seymour Street and runs north to the railyard.

Sixth Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival Debuts Next Week

In another world, we would be welcoming the Sixth Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to town next week.

Even as things are, the show must go on as they say and so next week Lloyd Komesar and the Festival team will launch MNFF6: ONLINE, a virtual event designed to deliver the vibrant independent spirit that MNFF has come to represent for filmmakers and audiences alike.

So rather than Town Hall Theater, the Marquis Theatre, or Dana Auditorium, the Festival will take place on your mobile phone, your tablet, your laptop, and your TV starting August 27 and running through September 3.

During those eight days, you can watch any of the 26 feature films and six collections of short films that the Festival’s organizers have selected as outstanding documentaries and dramas—films to entertain and challenge. Innovative stuff for times that demand innovation. For more information, see

The Big Giveaway

Are you looking for ways to shop locally and support Middlebury businesses? Enter The Big Giveaway! Spend $25 at a locally owned store between August 15th and September 5th and enter to win one of five gift bundles—each valued at $500 or more. Check out the details here.

That’s all for today. See you downtown.

Please keep your comments and questions coming. Send me an email at and I’ll try to cover it in my next update.

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