$4.5M Penfield repair plan, after hours of review, backed by selectmen
After several hours of presentations, questions and discussion, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously approved a $4.5 million bonding resolution to repair, protect and elevate Penfield Pavilion, closed since it was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
The bonding still needs approval from the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting.
And while $4.5 million is the total project cost, offsets from various sources, including insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will reduce the town's share of the bill. Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer explained that the amount received in reimbursement from FEMA will depend on whether the federal agency classifies the town's project as "improved" or "alternate."
If FEMA decides the project falls into the "improved" category, all eligible expenses will be reimbursed at 75 percent, reducing the town's share to $576,350. The town's share increases to $1.16 million if FEMA considers the work an "alternate" project, where only 90 percent of eligible expenses receive the 75 percent reimbursement. The town won't know, Mayer said, until it makes its formal application to FEMA, but believes the risk is low that it will be categorized as "alternate."
Under the plan, the east wing of the pavilion, which contains lockers, would be demolished. The west wing would be temporarily moved into the parking lot, while a new foundation of cement and timber piles is installed, along with new steel elements to support the flooring. There would be a continuous berm from the Durrell Pavilion to Rickard's Beach. A small addition to the pavilion, adjacent to the gathering room, would be built to house two bathrooms and changing rooms, along with some day lockers.
James Bradley, chairman of the Penfield Building Committee, said recommended repair option, of the 11 considered, keeps the town's asset in place, protects it from future storms, and still allows town programming at Penfield.
"The FEMA officer, and the town's building official, have signaled this is the preferred option," Bradley said.
The selectmen also took into consideration the revenue generated by Penfield, which would be lost if the building were demolished and not rebuilt.
Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo said the average rental costs $975, and if there are an average of three rentals per week, the facility can generate an estimated $150,000 annually. "We feel fairly comfortable with our numbers," Lombardo said.
Resident Jan Reber submitted a list of nine questions to the selectmen regarding the pavilion and noted that the FEMA reimbursement "is certainly not assured."
"What would happen if we don't get this FEMA money?" Reber said, and asked if this option recommended by the building committee provides additional flood control. The committee doesn't know if the building's mechanicals were damaged in the storm, although Bradley said it is assumed that a certain percentage might have been affected and there is a contingency in place for unexpected expenses.
"The insurance money doesn't have to be used for Penfield," Reber said. "Our debt is already 9 percent of the town's budget."
The town's insurance settlement is $1.75 million.
RTM member Gaylord Meyer, R-1, said she's received about 300 emails, not only from her district but all over town, sent by residents who don't want the pavilion rebuilt.
She suggested something like Milford's Silver Sands would be appropriate -- a beach with a simple boardwalk and shade trees.
Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Brian Nerreau said a pavilion has been a fixture on the beach for more than 100 years. "Penfield is a unique facility and a source of pride and joy for many," Nerreau said, and one of the few resources in town that caters to all ages. "Penfield has been the jewel in our crown."
Nerreau said it is also the busiest of the town's five Long Island Sound beaches, each of which has its own identity. "To offer no amenities on a beach this size is not an option, in our opinion."
"This has been a very long process," Selectman Kevin Kiley said, "and a very difficult and challenging process." He said for him, the matter comes down to whether the town's asset, the pavilion, is worth preserving. "My answer is `yes,' " Kiley said, adding the payback via revenue generated by facility rentals can't be ignored.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said she trusts that the building committee will continue to work with the Department of Public Works and Flood and Erosion Control Board to deal with flooding issues in the beach area.
"We know that there are risks, whether it's nature or the financing," Vahey said, She said she, too, has received many emails from residents, and also spoke with thousands of residents while campaigning this summer for state office. "There are many people who just want to see a beach, and there are many who want to see the pavilion."
There are 60,000 residents in town, First Seletman Michael Tetreau said, "that do not all view things the same way."
If the town were to tear down the pavilion and just "sweep the beach clean," the town would still have $4 million in debt from when Penfield was rebuilt, just a few years ago, and no revenue generated to pay that debt. That revenue, Tetreau said, keeps the reconstruction debt out of the town's taxes.