Selectmen sign off on Penfield renovations
Six days after the town held a referendum on whether to issue $350,000 in bonds to build a girl's softball field on Hoyden's Hill, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Wednesday to borrow $3.28 million more to renovate Penfield Pavilion.
The selectmen cited the beachfront structure's unsafe conditions, economically competitive bids from contractors and historically low interest rates as reasons for approving the project.
The proposal now goes to the Board of Finance in early September. If it succeeds there, it will move to the Representative Town Meeting later that month.
The proposed renovations would dismantle the central and western portions of Penfield Pavilion -- the town's largest beach facility, which is roughly 100 years old -- and replace it with a slightly smaller building designed in a more patron-friendly manner, said James Gallagher, chairman of the building committee. The eastern section was renovated last year.
The new facility would feature a full kitchen, a larger deck area -- much of it shaded -- and a higher-ceilinged central room that could accommodate 179 people, four more than the existing space.
A new hallway would link the parking lot with the beachside deck, so visitors would never need to walk through social events in the central section to get to the sand, Gallagher said. And the deck would pull back several feet from the water, leaving more open space on the beach.
On Monday, First Selectman Kenneth Flatto raised concerns that the project -- which has already gone to bidding -- may have grown too large in scope and price. He asked residents to send him feedback on whether they approve of the renovation project.
On Wednesday, he said the 50 or so responses were split down the middle on whether to go forward.
In the discussions that followed, Richard White, the director of public works, said he did not expect the existing pavilion could withstand the next major storm. Had the waves been slightly higher during the March nor'easter, the building would have suffered "significant structural damage," he said.
White added that if the project gets postponed, he foresees spending up to $300,000 in the next couple years on the building's maintenance. The building needs a new roof, new façade boards and significant work to its foundation beams, he said.
A drink machine recently fell through the building's floorboards.
"At one point is that a member of the public falling through the floor?" asked Selectman James Walsh.
Flatto continued pressing for ways to scale back the plans: Narrow the deck? Cut out the new kitchen?
Gallagher said that the deck was among the cheapest parts of the proposed project and that reducing its size would bring only marginal savings. Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo then pointed out that the new kitchen would be identical to the one at the smaller, neighboring Penfield II, also known as Jacquelyn Durrell Pavilion.
That facility has a capacity of 125 people, Lombardo said.
Gallagher argued that, with bidding prices and interest rates so low right now, postponing the project could make it up to $700,000 more expensive in the future. He predicted contractors would demand some $500,000 more for the project next year and that the town might lose the $200,000 grant it now has in place.
A. Secondino & Son, Inc., of Branford, submitted the lowest bid in late July of $2.53 million for the renovations contract.
After Gallagher presented his case, Flatto said he saw no easy way to scale back the project. While he'd hoped to bring costs below $2.5 million, he said, that no longer seemed possible.
Tensions did arise Wednesday over how frequently the new pavilion might be used.
Lombardo said he envisions allowing the rental space at the pavilion to be leased twice a day -- in the afternoon and again in the evening -- from April through June, and then in September and October. He would prefer to restrict rentals to after 8 p.m. only in July and August.
But Flatto insisted that afternoon parties be off-limit from the beginning of May through the end of September. He asked that his view be passed along to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which would ultimately have to set the rental policies.
Several residents and officials said Wednesday the pavilion is now an eye-sore that needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
Jill Kelly, a real estate agent and former selectman, said she's "embarrassed" to bring potential home buyers to Penfield when giving tours of town.
"It's a disgrace," she said. "I'm not asking for the Hamptons, but something must be done."