Fairfield ponders the future of Penfield Pavilion

As it has since Hurricane Sandy set her sights on Fairfield, Penfield Pavilion sits vacant. A meeting Aug. 27 ended with more questions than answers. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

As it has since Hurricane Sandy set her sights on Fairfield, Penfield Pavilion sits vacant. A meeting Aug. 27 ended with more questions than answers. (Shawn O’Sullivan Photo)

As a summer that saw the pavilion at Penfield Beach remain off-limits came to an end, Fairfield residents learned they could have a say in rebuilding the structure.

The pavilion, restored in 2011, suffered heavy damage when Hurricane Sandy slammed into Fairfield last fall. A meeting was held at Fairfield Ludlowe High School on Aug. 27, regarding the rebuilding of the pavilion.

Director of Public Works Joseph Michelangelo introduced the process and the design team hired by the town to assess the damage to the pavilion by Storm Sandy, and make recommendations.

Jose Miguel Albaine of JM Albaine Engineering LLC, head of the team, said the major damage was caused by the force of high, flowing water, washing gravel and sand from beneath the footings of the building, leaving them without support. The process is referred to as scour.

(Click here and here to download the reports.)

Albaine said 90 of the 245 footings that support the pavilion were damaged. That, in turn, left structural beams compromised, primarily in the gathering room.

Albaine presented three options for the town.

The least expensive would be to repair the structure at the same elevation within the existing footprint. While economical, Albaine said that option does not bring the pavilion into compliance with new requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, he said, if the repair costs less than 50% of the building’s value, it does not need to comply.

Two other options would include Albaine’s recommendation to elevate the structure to meet the new FEMA requirements, based on a 100-year storm. Albaine said Sandy was a 70-year storm.

The pavilion could be left in its current location and raised to the required height, he said. Or it could be moved 80 feet north, away from water’s edge and into the existing parking lot, then elevated to bring it into compliance with FEMA.

“At this juncture we are dealing with the 50% rule,” Albaine said. “If the damage that the pavilion incurred is not more than 50% of the market value, then insurance is not obligated to repair the damage. If the cost to repair exceeds 50% of the market value, then the upgrade kicks in and they are obligated to raise the building to make it compliant with the new FEMA regulation.”

Many of those at the Aug. 27 meeting commented on the poor drainage system after Sandy and Irene, saying that it should be addressed before any rebuilding.

Mel Silverman said he had fond memories of celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary at Penfield Pavilion, but none of the options said anything about improving drainage and eliminating the scour that caused the problems.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said that the larger issue of flooding would be addressed at a later date in an additional presentation.

“We are participating along with six other towns Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning group on developing a hazard mitigation for flooding plan,” Tetreau said. “We are looking at Stamford’s pumping and dike systems, looking at the cost and feasibility of putting in the permanent pumping stations at certain areas along the beach.”

Dirk Vanderblue said the design and location of the pavilion prevent water from receding. He and other residents said the parking area around the building is part of the problem.

“Why isn’t the building moved to Jennings?” Vanderblue asked. “We have the Jacky Durrell Pavilion. Why do we need two buildings adjacent competing with each other?”

Any restoration would be the second rebuilding in recent years for the pavilion. The ribbon on a renovation costing $3.28 million was cut on Aug. 4, 2011. Three weeks later, Hurricane Irene struck the shoreline.

Jane Talimini compared the current structure to Kubla Khan’s “stately pleasure dome” in the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

“Now that the palatial pleasure dome of last year has fallen to forces beyond the control of man, we are asked to support a replacement,” she said, adding that she did not support any of the suggested options.

“If we have any smarts at all we have learned and are still learning what the future promises in the way of extreme storms, extreme shore erosion and extreme flooding,” Talimini said. “New England boasts many beautiful beaches, untouched by the human hand. Nothing enhances them except their own dunes, rocks and sand. I recommend leaving the beach as it is.”

After Talimini’s comments Tetreau said there might be a fourth option.

Jim Gallagher, a former Fairfield Police officer who had been chairman of the building committee for Penfield, spoke in support of the architecture and engineering of the building, as well as the concept.

“We did what you folks asked us to do,” Gallagher said. “The public decided to build that building.”

Gallagher said he believes the bulkhead wall of the building became a dam, questioning that the engineering team failed to discuss what caused the scouring.

“Water couldn’t recede back into Long Island Sound where it was supposed to go,” he said.

“I strongly oppose moving the building. I strongly oppose elevating the building,” Gallagher said. “I do agree with installing helical piles underneath the building, strengthening the building. The money we are going to spend raising the building doesn’t make any sense.”

Jenny Gillis called for simplicity, rather than “Penfield cathedral with its vaulted ceilings and its ballroom that was too precious for sand to get on it. It is for a different place and a different purpose.”

She asked the town to consider a fourth option: “Going back to the drawing board. The Durrell Pavilion is enough. I’d like Penfield Pavilion to be a simple municipal building with some picnic tables, benches, washroom facilities.”

Tetreau said the town would probably appoint a building committee to chart a course for Penfield Pavilion because of the large number of issues.

“It’s not just a function of what we can do,” Tetreau said, “but what we want to do.”

State Rep. Brenda Kupchick suggested a survey be conducted based on prices for all options, including relocating the building to Jennings Beach.

Jill Kelly also asked for simplicity in the restoration, quoting architect Mies van der Rohe, who said “Less is more.”

“Our efforts should be in restoring the beach, and not restoring Penfield Pavilion,” she said.

“Why don’t we talk about do we want it, what size do we want it, among the community and then look at the options,” Robert Stillson suggested.

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