New $6M Penfield Pavilion repair plan surfaces after wave of meetings

The Penfield Pavilion will be closed for another beach season next year as officials have devised a new repair plan for the sturcture, which has been closed since damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
The Penfield Pavilion will be closed for another beach season next year as officials have devised a new repair plan for the sturcture, which has been closed since damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.File photo

The latest option to repair storm-battered Penfield Pavilion, which would include a locker wing, has a higher construction cost, but officials say the plan would give the town the best chance of getting "optimal" Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement.

The $6 million option, known as 7A, was recommended by the Penfield Building Committee on Tuesday night and approved Wednesday by the Board of Selectmen.

Those actions followed a week of changing scenarios for the pavilion, which has been closed since October 2012 when the structure was undermined by Superstorm Sandy.

The time lost, however, means the pavilion will not be open for the 2015 beach season, even if the revised repair plan goes on to win approval from the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting.

Last week, the finance board took no action on the building committee's original request for $4.6 million to carry out repair option 7, sending it back the the panel to reconsider adding the locker wing based on new information regarding FEMA calculations.

The project first recommended by the building committee called for demolishing the east wing of the pavilion that housed lockers, moving the west wing into the parking lot while a new timber pile foundation was built, and then moving the repaired and elevated west wing back into place. A small addition would have been built on the east end to house bathrooms and changing rooms.

While the Parks and Recreation Commission preferred to have the entire building restored, it was felt the cost would be too much.

But as Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer explained at all three meetings, the federal reimbursement hinges on how the project is designated by FEMA. If it is considered a "repair/improvement" project, FEMA reimbursement would be 75 percent of eligible construction and mitigation costs. However, if it is deemed an "alternate" project, reimbursement would not include any mitigation costs and would be based on the FEMA-determined estimate of $4.12 million.

The risk, he said, is that option 7 could be designated an alternate project because it would have had a smaller footprint than the damaged pavilion. If that is the case, the town's funding for the project would be $1.2 million, compared to $576,350 if option 7 were deemed a repair/improvement.

Option 7A, however, Mayer said, would most likely be considered a repair/improvement project because the building would have the same footprint as it did prior to Superstorm Sandy, and mitigation work would also be covered. With option 7A, the town faces a net cost of $943,927.

"Option 7 is a lesser facility and runs a higher risk of it being thrown" into the alternate designation, James Bradley, chairman of the building committee, said at his group's special meeting Tuesday.

Before Sandy, the pavilion's 203 lockers were generating $38,000 in revenue annually, and Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo said they were always 100 percent rented each season.

"That was always the commission's preference," Lombardo said, to have the locker wing restored, but based on the information from FEMA initially available, "We wanted to be fiscally prudent."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said option 7A not only has a lower financial risk, it lowers flooding risks, and provides the town with a stronger annual revenue stream. He said that revenue stream also goes toward paying down the $4 million debt the town still owes on Penfield from the 2011 rebuild. If the pavilion were demolished and not rebuilt, as some residents have suggested, Tetreau said that $4 million debt remains and without the revenue from the gathering room and locker rentals, it gets shifted to the taxpayers.

The selectmen were unanimous in their support of option 7A on Wednesday.

Special building committee meeting

While the selectmen were unanimous, Penfield Building Committee member Ian Bass cast the lone dissenting vote at that board's special meeting Tuesday to consider option 7A.

After listening to Mayer's explanation of the financial aspects of the two options, Bass said, "I would love to believe all that, but numbers can be construed to have many meanings. We're making a gross assumption that option 7 will in fact be viewed as an alternate, which would then make option 7 look less financially desirable."

Bass said there is no guarantee on what decision FEMA will make. "I've gone through 8 or 9 emails with FEMA and I am nowhere near as convinced that we can use the term `very confident' that we are going to get the 75 percent," he said.

With lockers generating additional revenue, "I don't see the downside in recommending 7A; if the town bodies decide they don't want to go in that direction, that's their prerogative," said committee member Robert Bellitto, Jr.

A former member of the Board of Finance, Bellitto said anytime the town does a project that involves reimbursement, there is never a guarantee how much the town will be reimbursed. "You are hoping for the best, and the decision is not solely driven by that. You can't expect certainty when it comes to reimbursements."

Committee member Ellory Plotkin, who used to serve on Parks and Recreation, said the building committee is not the Board of Finance. "They're going to do their jobs and we need to do our best for the town of Fairfield," Plotkin said.

Board of Finance

The Board of Finance got the ball rolling on adding the lockers back into the repair project when it met last week.

Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn said one of the questions he's heard from residents is, "If we're spending the money, why aren't we getting the lockers back?"

And finance board member James Walsh, who made the motion to take no action on option 7, said locker revenue would pay back the town's cost for those lockers in a little under eight years.

Flynn said he wanted to know if the building committee had the full benefit of the latest information, because if it had, it might want to reconsider. Saying he meant no disrespect to the committee, "I don't know how you can stand behind" the recommended repair plan.

No pavilion for 2015

At Wednesday's selectmen meeting, Bradley said while the pavilion will not be ready for use next summer, that was already the case prior to the finance board's decision to send the funding request back to the building committee.

However, the morning after the finance meeting, when asked if the board's decision to take no action would affect the timeline for re-opening the pavilion, Bradley said, "Yes, I think that the delay means that while the major work moving the building back and forth, new pile supported foundations, decks, etc., will be done the pavilion will not be completely ready for occupancy until after the summer beach season."