The town government seat, known officially as the Honorable John J. Sullivan Independence Hall, was built 34 years ago, but since incorporating the name of the town's longest-serving first selectman, the white-sided office building has changed little.
The structure on the town government campus off Old Post Road, however, may look a little different in the near future.
Former Town Attorney Roy Ervin, the last active member of a committee established in 1998 to oversee the building where most municipal departments are housed, proposed changes to its exterior during the Board of Selectmen's meeting last week.
While two of the three selectmen favored Ervin's proposed renovations, the Historic District Commission was less enthusiastic when it met the next day.
Ervin had wanted the building's south entrance to gain more prominence by adding a portico and flagpole, and moving the plaque that honors Sullivan from the north entrance to the south side. Sullivan, who died in 1997, served as first selectman a record 24 years, from 1959 to 1983 and the building was named in his honor after his death. Prior to that, it was called Independence Hall.
"The north entrance of the building is seldom used. It's the south entrance with the big parking lot that is the dominating entryway," Ervin told the selectmen.
Ervin also wanted to erect a 3-foot-high, 320-foot-long white picket fence along the side of the building that faces Beach Road and add a two-story side-wall projection and pitched roof in the middle of that wall to break up the mass of the building. Ervin said white picket fences are common in the neighborhood nearby Sullivan-Independence Hall and that the side-wall projection, which would extend 12 inches from the wall, and pitched roof would give the building a more colonial look.
The flagpole Ervin proposed at the south entrance would have featured a yardarm and Betsy Ross flag to signify the British invasion of Fairfield by sea in 1779. "Fairfield has a history with its beachfronts and the British coming by water. We had a real naval entanglement," Ervin said. "I feel this would be something very unique -- not only to have a flagpole with a Betsy Ross flag, but a yardarm to show the naval history of town."
The Historic District Commission, however, denied outright two of the plan's features -- the white picket fence and flagpole.
Four other aspects of the plan were denied, but without prejudice, which means they can be re-submitted with changes. These are: making the main entrance to the building from the south rather than the north side; adding a portico on the south entry; the side-wall projection on the wall that faces Beach Road, and adding wrought-iron holdbacks on the shutters.
The improvements would be financed through private donations, Ervin said. "This is at no cost to any taxpayer in Fairfield," he said. "We have adequate funds to pay for these."
Ervin requested that the Board of Selectmen endorse his proposed changes so he could tell the town's Historic District Commission that he had the selectmen's backing. If the commission approves the proposed changes, Ervin said he would solicit bids in a few months and hope to have the project done by the town's 375th anniversary celebration next year.
"The improvements to the building are basically superficial," said First Selectman Michael Tetreau. "We're not changing the work areas so it's not going to impact any of the employee space."
Tetreau agreed that the south entrance to the building is the most heavily used. He said not only is it the closest entrance to the parking lot, but it's also at the end of the building where the most heavily patronized town departments are located, such as Building, Conservation and Zoning.
Judy Ewing of Sasco Hill Terrace, the only member of the audience to speak on Ervin's proposed changes at the Oct. 9 meeting, said she uses the north entrance of Sullivan-Independence Hall and would prefer that Sullivan's plaque not be moved. "If you want to replicate one for the south end, that'd be fine," she said.
Selectman Kevin Kiley seemed impressed with the proposed changes. "Good stuff. Thank you," he said to Ervin. "I would love to support this and support it today. I think it's a great plan."
But Cristin McCarthy Vahey said she had "mixed feelings" about the proposed white picket fence and wanted more time to think about Ervin's proposed changes. "There's a lot of new information here today," she said.
Tetreau said the Historic District Commission would take "a long, hard look" at the proposed picket fence to ensure it "fits in with the character of the area."
"The interior space of Sullivan-Independence Hall will not be impacted by this ... and it doesn't cost any taxpayer dollars to do this," Tetreau said. "I would like to keep Mr. Ervin on track here."
Tetreau and Kiley voted in favor of Ervin's proposals, while Vahey abstained from voting.