As many of you know, I am the last person who wants to spend money -- whether it's my own personal cash or town tax dollars.
But there comes a time when I assess a situation -- for a long time -- to determine if spending money is the right move. I drive myself crazy when I have to buy a big-ticket item. I lost sleep over the decision to buy a new car -- my first one in 15 years -- and, most recently, agonized about the purchase of a new television set after the six-year-old one my mother gave me went kaput.
In both cases, and after considerable thought, buying them was the right decision.
The town is in a similar dilemma regarding the Penfield Pavilion, which was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. The storm undermined the footings and foundation, rendering the structure unusable now for nearly a year.
The town administration is investigating, with the help of teams of engineers, just what to do with the relatively new building. The pavilion was rebuilt over a two-year period for $5.5 million after the more than 100-year-old building finally showed its age. After phasing in portions of the facility, the entire building was reopened to the public in 2011.
It was lauded and praised as an architectural gem for Fairfield. Its banquet room was an exquisite space, overlooking Long Island Sound. I attended a retirement party there in October 2011 and was proud that such a beautiful structure was in my town. And the deck was a great spot to read a book, have a late supper and just a place to sit and stare at the water.
In the years preceding the reopening of the pavilion -- when town decision-makers were deliberating about funding, design and timetable -- few negative words were uttered about remaking the century-old structure into something grand. (I read the archival material in the Fairfield Citizen before I sat down to write this column.)
But now, apparently, returning the pavilion to its pre-storm glory seems not to be such a good idea -- at least that's what a bunch of residents (primarily those living near Penfield Beach) had to say at a special town meeting conducted Aug. 27 about how to fix it.
Three options are on the table: repairing it to its pre-storm status, repairing and elevating it in its current location, or repairing, elevating and moving it 80 feet north into the parking lot.
Some in attendance at the special meeting had a fourth option. The sentiment of the crowd -- based on the FairTV recording of the session --leaned toward scrapping the damaged the pavilion entirely and just providing some bathrooms (port-a-potties, perhaps?) and lockers. One speaker said there's no need for a concession stand because beach-goers can bring their own food.
Some of that may be true, but are we really prepared to overlook the millions we've already spent to build the thing? Or even the income that the town makes from renting out the pavilion for parties or weddings? The Fairfield Citizen reported in April that 89 planned rentals were canceled and $35,000 in deposits had to be returned. Rental fees range from $600 to $1,200. The Citizen also reported that $38,000 in locker rentals was also lost.
I don't know about you, but I don't like the thought of losing that kind of money.
Years ago, when we as a town made a commitment to build a new Penfield Pavilion, we made an important investment, which at this juncture should not be cast aside.
To do anything other than options two or three, would be (in the words of one of the speakers at the special meeting), silly. (To be fair, though, she thought spending any kind of money to repair it was silly.) I'll add another word -- wrong. It would be just downright wrong not to return the pavilion to its pre-storm condition, with added enforcements so it can withstand a 100-year (or worse) storm.
Take it from me, sometimes to have nice things, you got to spend the money.
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.