Group tees up options for new clubhouse
FAIRFIELD — As the building committee charged with renovating the clubhouse at H. Smith Richardson Golf Course starts to look at architects for the project, it’s added a new wrinkle — the possibility of moving the building.
While giving an update of its work to date to the Board of Finance, Chairman Craig Curley said they asked for proposals for three options: renovating the existing structure, demolishing and building a new clubhouse at the current location, and building a new clubhouse on the other side of the course, next to the driving range.
Actually, Curley said, they asked for a fourth option — any other proposals the committee might not have thought of — but all the firms that responded stuck with giving three options.
“Clearly we need to consider a renovation, also a teardown and rebuild,” Curley said, but one committee member suggested moving the clubhouse to the Hoydens Lane side, across the street from current driving range. “I think that caught the committee off guard... but does have merit.”
There could be some advantages to moving the clubhouse, he said. Right now, golfers have to drive to use the driving range. At courses where the driving range is much closer to the clubhouse, they said, income from the driving range increases dramatically.
Reports from Sterling Farms in Stratford, they said, put driving range income at $1 million annually.
“The biggest benefit I see is that right now the driving range and main area are separated by a car ride, and as a result the driving range revenue is about $150,000 a year,” Curley said, He said both the golf pro and the Golf Commission members feel range revenue would double or triple and could help pay the project costs.
And while the committee’s priority is golf, town boards have asked that they keep in mind any future recreational uses at the property.
“If you think about it if the clubhouse goes up there,” said Hal Schwartz, vice chairman of the building committee, the current location could be used by the Recreation Department for things like an ice rink or swimming pool. “No one has told us we can’t do it, he said.
“There are challenges but there are no legal ramifications that say we can’t look at that option.”
The driving range is next to the Denise Dougiello Park, which is home to a girl’s softball field. Getting that field approved in 2013 was quite a task and was first envisioned as a park with several fields, not just one. Though ultimately granted zoning approval, neighbors raised objections about traffic on the road that the park would generate.
“There’s going to be some pushback,” Schwartz acknowledged, “but there’s a lot of property up there. There’s a lot of logistical things that would need to be taken care of ...but the finished product gives the town so many more options.”
Curley stressed, however, that it’s just one of the options under consideration, and depending on the cost could be a non-starter.
“There’s no budget right now,” he said. “The estimate for the renovation 10 years ago was $3.5 million, I imagine now that’s $4.7 million. Our goal, frankly, is to stay under $6 million if we can.”
Should a renovation of the existing building turn out to be much cheaper than a rebuild, Curley said, then that is what they would recommend. If the rebuild was comparable, though, they might recommend that, and if the relocation makes the most sense when considering cost and other benefits, he said, then that could be what the committee ends up endorsing.
In addition to boosting driving range revenue, Curley said relocating the clubhouse also allows golf operations to continue uninterrupted during the construction.
Finance board Vice Chairman James Brown cautioned against relying too heavily on revenue estimates.
“As the committee moves forward, be careful about going completely off the reservation, cause we’ve seen that,” Brown said. “I know there’s a lot of options, a lot of ideas, but there’s only a certain amount of money to bond.”
Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn, thinks the project will be controversial enough without throwing a relocation into the mix, and like fellow board member Sheila Marmion, recalled the uproar over the softball field
Curley said the building committee is committed to finding the best option, and Schwartz said he thinks it’s too early in the process to take that option off the table.
“We understand there will be pushback from the neighborhood,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to want to sit down with, but we’re 10 or 11 months away from a decision.”
Town Plan and Zoning approval would be needed if the decision were to relocate the clubhouse to Hoydens Hill.