Renovating Fairfield’s Gould Manor Park will now cost $1.4 million, officials say

FAIRFIELD — The cost of renovating Gould Manor Park went up this week, and some of that expense is related to the fill pile cleanup, officials says.

In meetings this week, the boards of selectman and finance approved increasing bond appropriations for the cleanup by $450,000 to a total of nearly $1.4 million. Officials said the remediation work there is now done, though the park’s renovations are not.

Town boards originally approved $945,000 in June, and work began in August. The park is one of 40 or so contaminated sites around Fairfield connected to the fill pile scandal that has cost the towns millions of dollars in cleanup expenses.

An investigation into possible contamination on the site began in August 2019 after reports of potential asbestos that may have come from the fill pile managed by Julian Enterprises. Fill and topsoil from the fill pile on Richard White Way were used in renovations of the sidewalk in 2013 and 2014.

Arsenic, lead and asbestos were all confirmed to be along the sidewalk shortly after the investigation started. More tests followed, along with the creation of a remediation plan.

In a Board of Finance meeting Tuesday, Chief Administrative Officer Tom Bremer said the remediation cost has gone up, but not all of it is directly related to contaminated soil.

“Why is that? Well, when they were taking off the three to four inches of topsoil and redoing the fields, we recognized that the field closest to the point... was basically improperly built when they built it almost ten years ago,” Bremer said, going on to add that parts of the layer of rubble under the topsoil was contaminated.

When he visited the site, Bremer said, he saw incorrect material was used under the field, causing to it drain improperly. He said the town could have let it be and just replaced the few inches of top soil, but decided against that.

“We thought it was much more beneficial to build it correctly,” he said. “So, we removed that lower level material.”

Bremer said $220,000 of the increase was related to that material replacement, which he said officials would not have been able to anticipate until the sod was removed from the field.

Board of Finance member John Mitola said that field was originally built by Fairfield American Little League, and has been rebuilt before.

Bremer said the issue with the prior builds is that others were controlling it, and “the town had very little oversight on what was being done.”

According to town documents, $130,000 of the increase is going to perimeter fencing and a public bathroom at the park.

Bremer said the park’s bathroom “doesn’t look very good” and was scheduled to be redone by the town a few years from now.

“But, really we thought that if we really want to make this field, which has been closed for years, really look good come the spring, we felt the public bathroom really needs a face lift on the outside,” he said, adding the interior would also get renovations.

The $75,000 associated with the public bathroom renovation is an estimate from Public Works, Bremer said, and the project should be done before April. The $55,000 in fencing, he said, is because the current fencing is in bad shape.

“These are things that are going to have to be done,” he said. “We’d rather do it while we’re there.”

He said the only item that might be impacted by the timeline of finishing by spring 2022 is the bathrooms, as it will require an outside contractor, but it should not require him to come back to the boards.

Member Sheila Marmion questioned renovating the bathrooms at the park, especially as Parks and Recreation puts together a strategic spending plan.

“I’m not sure now is the time to be renovating the bathrooms, given that we might need to add bathrooms at other fields,” she said.

The added costs also include additional irrigation, temporary fencing, score boards and increased costs for the pickleball and basketball court, which are set to cost another combined $90,000.

Mitola asked why the work had already started.

“My concern is you kind of put the cart before the horse, it seems like,” he said. “Why didn’t we know about this two months ago or a month ago before you started this work?”

Bremer said the town did not want to pause the work and then start again after it got funding approval.

“The thought is, we have to remediate,” he said. “It’s not a question of ‘Should we or shouldn’t we?’ We are faced with contaminated stuff and obviously the field wasn’t built properly. We made a decision that we needed to go ahead with this.”

Bremer said the costs associated with the work at Gould Manor Park were still under the original $945,000 approved for it. Although the remediation work has been done, he said other park improvements have not been started or finished yet.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com