Future for Fairfield’s Penfield Pavilion uncertain with halt on reservations

FAIRFIELD — Officials announced a halt to new reservations at the Penfield Pavilion starting next year, as the town looks to address contaminated fill on the property and federal violations.

Officials estimate the cost of bringing the building back in line with Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, as well as testing for and remediating spots where contaminated fill was used, will cost millions of dollars.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said the town will not take reservations for the venue after Oct. 31, 2022 as they gather information and approvals to address both issues.

“That would be a better time, because we would want to do this stuff during the fall and winter,” she said. “Hopefully, we’d be done by the summer season so that, regardless of what happens to the building, we don’t have backhoes and everything like that in the middle of the beach.”

The reasoning behind the decision, she said, is ongoing environmental testing and remediation related to the fill pile scandal, as well as the building being constructed in 2017 in violation of the regulations of the National Flood Insurance Program outlined by FEMA . She said officials hope FEMA will sign off on solutions by that point.

“In April of 2016, the prior administration was advised that the pavilion was rebuilt in violation of a number of FEMA regulations,” she said. “Why they just went ahead and didn’t correct them, I don’t know.”

Kupchick said the town had applied three times for reimbursement from FEMA for damage the building sustained during Hurricane Sandy — twice during former First Selectman Mike Tetreau’s administration and once during hers. She said after the federal agency denied the $4 million reimbursement for a third time, officials notified the town again that the pavilion wasn’t built to code.

“My administration did not necessarily know,” she said. “We thought we just weren’t getting it because they didn’t fill our paperwork right or maybe the height of the thing was not correct. This letter was more detailed.”

FEMA notified her administration that the placement of the horizontal grade beams in the foundation of the building are against FEMA regulations and will have to be addressed, Kupchick said, adding the prior administration was notified of this but continued with construction.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy compromised a $5.5 million project to replace the century old pavilion. In 2017, a second project to renovate the historic building was completed.

Kupchick said she thinks the town should have hired a construction manager to handle the project, instead of commissioning a building committee like the town did. That way, she said, that company’s insurance would pay if something is not built to proper specifications.

“Then, they’re on the hook for it, because they are supposed to be a professional company making sure things are done appropriately,” she said. “In this case, we don’t have that because we had a building committee of appointed members of our community.”

Kupchick said the town is in the early talks with FEMA, as officials try and figure out what the agency will sign off on to address the violations. She said any options FEMA allows the town to go forward with would cost millions.

“We know, just based on these conversations, that it’s going to be a lot,” she said.

Whatever the cost associated with that is, Kupchick said, is entirely separate from the testing for and remediation of contaminated soil under the building and parts of the parking lot — which is also projected to cost millions of dollars.

“The cost to remove and dispose of the contaminated fill is looking to be in the range of $2.5 million,” Kupchick said at a Board of Selectman meeting last week. “There is Julian Fill underneath the Penfield parking lot, additional testing still required there. Current estimates to remediate that are between $3 and $5 million.”

Also last week, the Board of Selectman voted to set aside $6.3 million for fill pile associated costs from a surplus of approximately $9.3 million in the 2020-2021 budget. Then, on Monday, the board voted to also add $585,000 in Tropical Storm Isaias FEMA reimbursement funds to the fill pile fund.

Kupchick said her goal is to get two or three options for fixing the situation from FEMA so she can present them to residents.

Kupchick also said she thinks it’s important for residents to know that there is no risk in using the Penfield Pavilion or parking at the lot there.

“We had the (licensed environmental professional) do air testing in the soil all around the building, and there was no contamination,” she said. “It’s not being moved and you can’t get under the building. The parking lot, obviously, is paved — so it’s capped. There’s no danger to the community in any way.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com