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Sunday, March 25 Opinion

Hines Sight: Penfield Pavilion provides serenity, recreation -- and revenue

Two years ago in October, Superstorm Sandy paid an angry visit and nearly demolished the Penfield Pavilion.

The pavilion was rebuilt over a two-year period for $5.5 million after the more than 100-year-old origin building finally showed its age. After phasing in portions of the facility, the entire building was reopened to the public in 2011.

It was praised as an architectural gem for Fairfield. Its banquet room was an exquisite space, overlooking Long Island Sound, and the deck was a great spot to read a book, have a late supper or just sit and look at the water.

But Sandy undermined the footings and foundation, rendering the structure unusable now for almost two years. It is distressing to drive or walk by the pavilion and see it fenced off and looking abandoned.

This is not how we want Fairfield to be portrayed.

Finally, after months of intense, thorough debate, the Penfield Building Committee has arrived at an option to repair the structure and reopen it in time for the 2015 beach season.

Under the recommended plan, which already has been supported by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the east wing of lockers would be demolished and replaced with a smaller addition, and the west wing would be elevated on new timber pilings.

To install the new pilings, the west wing would be cut free, moved temporarily into the parking lot and then returned to its original location. The proposed east wing addition would have a small changing room and bathrooms. Additionally, the building would be elevated another 3.5 feet to comply with current Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations.

It sounds like a good plan to me.

The entire price tag would be $4.6 million, but after the town factors in $1.8 million from insurance, a $500,000 state grant and the possibility of 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA for hazard mitigation and raising the building, the town would have to come up with $1.5 million to $2 million for the project.

When you consider how much we spend on repairing and or renovating our school buildings, the cost for Penfield is a bargain.

I, for one, would like to have the pavilion open in April 2015, then we can start making some money from renting out the banquet space for weddings and parties. When the pavilion was deemed unsafe in 2012, the town had to cancel private party reservations to the tune of $35,000 for the 2013 season alone.

While the town will lose money with the elimination of lockers -- in 2013, $38,000 in rent was lost -- I'm willing to forgo that money to bring the pavilion back to glory. To recoup the lost locker income, the town might want to consider raising the fee for banquet space rental.

But time is of the essence. The longer we take in deciding what to do, the more the pavilion is subjected to deterioration and won't be open in 2015.

The project will face a Board of Selectmen vote sometime in August, and then a Board of Finance review before Representative Town Meeting votes on the funding either this month or next. Construction would have to start in early October to have the pavilion ready for the next beach season.

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The Penfield Building Committee, however, wants the public to participate in the process. In a news release from the first selectman's office, Jim Bradley, the committee chairman, said, "Feedback from the citizens of Fairfield has been important to our committee throughout our investigation and deliberations -- people haven't been shy about voicing their opinions when it comes to Penfield." Toward that end, the committee is asking residents to attend its meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at the Board of Education office, second-floor conference room, 501 Kings Highway East. The architectural drawings for the recommended option will be presented and residents will be given the opportunity to voice their opinions on the plan.

This is residents' chance to be heard and, I hope, support repair to the pavilion.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.