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Both local universities want TPZ approval for several projects

Published 12:34 pm, Thursday, October 18, 2012
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It's academic -- nearly all of the applications, that is, on the agenda of next week's Town Plan and Zoning Commission meeting.

Fairfield University is seeking approval from the TPZ for new sports facilities at Alumni Field and Sacred Heart University wants permission to renovate and expand its Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. Those new applications join a revised plan for a new academic building at SHU on the commission agenda. The TPZ meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in McKinley School.

SHU wants to create a new entrance at the Edgerton Center and expand its gallery of contemporary art, according to William Fitzpatrick, the university's lawyer.

The front canopy on the building and part of its roof above the entrance would be demolished, and a new entrance with a decorative glass façade would be built. The project also includes a new box office and restrooms, and a new canopy, landscaping and glass façade are proposed on the west side of the courtyard. The addition onto the gallery of contemporary art, which is next to the Edgerton Center, would total 2,250 square feet, and areas to be renovated would total 3,945 square feet, according to the zoning application.

"There is no modification of the existing Edgerton Center performance area itself, so the existing seating capacity remains unchanged," Fitzpatrick says in the zoning application.

Meanwhile, Fairfield University, which won approval from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals in July to replace 40-foot-high lights with 75-foot-high lights at Alumni Field, is planning to build "stadium support facilities" and to re-organize spectator seating, according to Assistant Town Planner James Wendt and David Frassinelli, the university's associate vice president for facilities.

John Fallon, Fairfield U.'s lawyer, says in the zoning application that the new facilities go hand-in-hand with the new lights. "In addition to improvements in lighting, the university has made a commitment to upgrade the facilities at Alumni Field in order to insure that it becomes a superior venue in terms of playability, comfort for spectators and safety," he said.

Frassinelli said the new seating arrangement calls for 1,500 seats on the east side of the field, near the townhouses, and 2,000 seats on the west side of the field. "Our plan is to maintain that seating count of 3,500 people but better organize it so you don't have seating in the end zones," he said.

A structure would be built on the west side of Alumni Field to house a coach's room, locker room, restrooms and concession stand, and a press box and hospitality suites would be on top of the proposed structure in enclosed spaces, Frassinelli said. He said the concession stand wouldn't include cooking equipment and that the structure would wrap around bleacher seating.

The university also wants to slightly shift Alumni Field to the south and east to improve "spectator circulation," and the proposed changes also include "much improved ticketing and spectator entry areas," Fallon says in the zoning application.

Frassinelli said the proposed changes are designed to bring Alumni Field up to the standard of a Division 1 school that has successful athletic teams. "We're looking to create a game day experience that is appropriate for a Division 1 school and the successful teams we have put out on the field," he said.

Fallon is asking the Town Plan and Zoning Commission to incorporate into a potential approval of the facilities an agreement with Fairfield U.'s neighbors about when the lights at Alumni Field can be turned on. That agreement dates to the ZBA's approval of a height variance for the lights in July.

Meanwhile, SHU's revised application to build an academic building at 5401 Park Ave., corner of Jefferson Street, calls for the building to be smaller and for different materials to be used on the exterior of the proposed building. Parking spaces originally planned underground would be at grade level due to significant rock ledge and groundwater on the property. The number of parking spaces would remain at 210.

The Town Plan and Zoning Commission approved SHU's proposed academic building in March, and the university, at that time, planned to house its School of Business and School of Education in it. But the university later decided to leave the School of Education at its current location in Trumbull and to replace it with a School of Communication, which is already on SHU's Park Avenue campus. The School of Communication doesn't require as much space, so the size of the two above-grade floors on the proposed building would be 68,572 square feet, instead of 74,420 square feet, according to Fitzpatrick.

"This change in program should result in a net reduction in traffic to and from the School of Business and Communication since the students and professors will, by and large, already be on campus," Fitzpatrick says in the zoning application. "The basic layout of the building remains unchanged."

SHU also is substituting brick for metal and copper for stone on parts of the proposed facade, according to Fitzpatrick.

On Tuesday night, the commission will decide if the proposed changes require a new application or if they're consistent with the original approval, Wendt said.

Fitzpatrick hopes the commission determines the proposed changes are consistent with the approval in March, saying in the zoning application that the proposed changes "are modest in scope and constitute a reduction in the size of the building."