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Over the course of two special meetings July 10 and 12, the Fairfield Hills Authority (FHA) heard presentations from design team members for the new community center and senior center project, and approved cosmetic modifications to the facility’s exterior to help make it more visually consistent to other buildings on campus.
At a brief meeting in the C.H. Booth Library community room July 12, the authority voted 4-3 to accept those modifications, clearing the way for the project to advance to the Planning & Zoning Commission for review.
After brief public remarks, FHA member Andrew Willie opened the discussion reminding his colleagues that no matter what their feelings may be about specific elements of the center’s design, their role is strictly advisory.
“We only make recommendations,” he said, “that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
Authority member Roger Cyr then remarked that while the original Master Plan for Fairfield Hills was the product of dozens of meetings, community information forums, and workshops, many of the buildings town leaders assumed then could be modified or repurposed have since been razed, or are now scheduled for demolition because they cannot be reused.
Referring to the campus master plan, Director of Planning George Benson said there is no specific language that mandates new construction to mirror the specific designs of existing buildings, which were constructed decades ago as a state hospital.
“I was on the committee to rewrite the master plan and it was rewritten with the concept that most of the buildings would be reused, but that did not happen,” Mr Benson said, adding that there are no design guidelines in the master plan, only suggestions that new buildings be “compatible, or in harmony with other building characteristics.”
“It’s an interpretation,” Mr Benson said of the language in the plan. “In zoning regs, we talk about compatibility with the architecture of the campus. Like anything [involving] art or architecture, it’s personal. P&Z just needs to make sure it’s the best fit for the campus. I think a lot of work has been done, now it’s up to you to decide.”
It appeared a couple of the authority members had no interest in being rushed to make a recommendation on July 12, even though delays in the project are costing money that could otherwise be devoted to facility outfitting and programming according to both Mr Benson and First Selectman Pat Llodra, who was in attendance.
Taking More Time
Authority member Renata Adler said the rush to make a decision on the proposed design changes did not sit well with her.
“It’s a question people don’t seem to want to answer — it’s now or never,” she remarked. “I don’t see why we hastily have to do this.”
Authority member Phil Clark seemed to agree.
“If we have to have another meeting then so be it,” he said. “We asked for a long time to have this meeting. We’re getting pushed hard on this.”
But authority Chairman Ross Carley seemed settled on completing the recommendation.
“We talked this out the other night,” he said referring to the Monday meeting. “We had time to look at drawings.”
Mr Carley then proposed the authority consider structuring a vote around three scenarios: accepting the design changes as illustrated in plans reviewed during the two latest meeting and referring them to P&Z; rejecting the changes outright; or accepting the plan with suggested additional modifications the authority would communicate to zoning officials.
Ms Adler seemed to favor suggesting additional changes.
“If we’re going to tinker, there’s a black canopy over the senior center entrance — there are black canopies over funeral home entrances,” she said.
But Mr Benson urged the authority to curb any urge to fine-tune the updated designs. He said the question the authority needed to answer was: “Is this compatible with the spirit of the campus — that’s your charge, is it compatible? If you start nitpicking every issue, that’s not the charge you have. I think the adjustments Rusty made make it compatible,” he added, referring to architect Rusty Malik of Quisenberry Arcari Architects, LLC.
Following the close vote to move the design proposal to P&Z, Brian Hartgraves, co-chair of the Community Center Advisory Committee, issued the following statement: “The members of the Community Center Advisory Committee are very happy the Fairfield Hills authority passed a resolution in favor of the current design. It’s another step forward in bringing the community center to reality, and we look forward to the next step with Planning and Zoning. It is our hope we will have ground breaking in mid-September.”
June 10 Meeting
Shortly after indicating that community center and senior center architectural designs dated June 20 did not comply with Fairfield Hills design guidelines, the authority called the July 10 meeting, which included members of the Community Center Design and Advisory Committees, and members of the public.
Mr Malik presented a slideshow of renderings for the roughly 46,000-square-foot single-story facility that will house a community center, senior center, pool, kitchens, multipurpose spaces, rooms for programming, exterior features, and more.
At a previous meeting, Mr Carley had said, “It’s important to maintain looks keeping in flavor with the rest of buildings,” regarding the community center design.
While explaining the building’s placement —directly across from the Newtown Municipal Center — parking, and other project aspects, Mr Malik had said, “We tried to relate to the buildings around us” while designing a building that he said will be a “destination point” in town.
Regarding the Fairfield Hills Master Plan for redevelopment, which calls for “compatible” architecture, and another Land Use Zoning Regulation stating that new structures should “blend with existing historic structures,” Mr Malik stated Monday that the design team “tried to achieve what the master plan called for,” while also considering what is “most appropriate for our building.” The design, which includes a brick façade, “takes components of campus and its own appearance.”
He said designers considered how they could use saved materials as accents or to incorporate into the new building. His team also considered how to make the building compatible, while “keeping in mind many buildings” are slated for demolition. They looked at materials — brick, stone, granite — as important materials, but budgeting proved a challenge, Mr Malik said.
Cupolas, although not those saved from razed buildings on campus, “bring light into an art space and multipurpose room,” he said. Using “a lot of brick” and multi-paned windows and white paneling, Mr Malik said, the goal is “not to mimic, but to work with the existing architecture,” to develop “appropriate” features.
Mr Carley next opened the floor for comment, during which residents, community center project volunteers, and town officials aired their concerns.
Concerns And Comments
Resident Laura Lerman said she has “toured” Edmond Town Hall, the C.H. Booth Library, and other structures including the Newtown Ambulance Corps garage, saying the buildings “reference each other, and the buildings are great.”
The community center is “too modern,” she said. “Way too modern.” Concluding her comments, Ms Lerman said, “If you take a cactus and put it in a garden of daylilies, it’s still a cactus.”
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps built a new $4-plus-million building in Fairfield Hills several years ago.
Ken Lerman followed his wife’s comments, saying he was involved with the ambulance garage project. Plans were originally for one floor, “but the town said it had to be two,” he said. The cost for a second story “was significant,” Mr Lerman said. Designers also worked in brick and copper elements “to match existing” buildings and “to make it blend.” He said, “We’re proud of that building.”
Looking at the community center renderings, Mr Lerman said, “The roofline? I hate it.” The windows are also “very large; that doesn’t fit Fairfield Hills.”
The Fairfield Hills architecture is neo-Georgian, he said, and the buildings are “repetitive.” The new community center and senior center design is a “modern caricature of older buildings — not acceptable, not to me,” he said.
LeReine Frampton said she liked the design, but if it had to include additional details to be more compatible, “you’re going to run us out of interior” funding. She sought compromise, because “cost prohibits” some elements.
Also attending the earlier meeting, Mrs Llodra urged authority members to find a resolution in design plans in order to move the project promptly before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Mrs Llodra said she is concerned about delays.
“Timing is critical,” for this project, she said. She fears “climbing costs,” and does not want to lose any project components, she said. Mrs Llodra wants the community center project “right, but timely.” She is a “traditionalist,” Mrs Llodra said, “But I’m open-minded enough to say my preference may not be best for the community. We have to consider function and that has to help us dictate style.” Fairfield Hills is offices and dorm-style buildings, which is “not what we’re building.”
She mentioned a light, open, welcoming new structure “with a connection to the past and reference to the future.”
Mrs Llodra said she is aware that everyone will have a point of view, “but at some point” the designing has to stop, she said, asking for help to “get to the finish line.” She wants to “go forward and bring something good to the community,” she said, hoping that the designers and others involved with the process, including the Fairfield Hills Authority members, can “help us do that. We need your partnership in this.”
Excited About The Project
Speaking as a resident, Parks and Recreation Director Amy Mangold mentioned that “many have been dedicated” to the project, and she and others are “excited plans are becoming reality.” She favors the current building and “how its design will shape desire to spend meaningful time there.”
She said, “Sometimes you have to make a decision that is a risk.” When the FunSpace playground at Dickinson Park — a favorite spot in town — began to deteriorate several years ago, the recreation commission faced the challenge of “the rebuilding of something people loved.” Some people wanted to keep things the same, while others wanted something different.
“We compromised,” Ms Mangold said. “Now, [the new playground] is an exciting destination … sometimes you have to take a risk.” Referring to the community center designs, she said, “If we could just make this place more inviting.”
Carla Kron, a member of past community center planning and the more recent advisory committee working with town officials and designers, said she feels the current plans meet design guidelines.” She said that designing it with features that “bring in light” creates a welcoming atmosphere.
“And you have to remember why we’re building it,” she said. It “has to be light and bright.” She feels “people want this type of welcoming atmosphere, and I keep hearing, ‘Why do you want to look like an old hospital?’” Changes will also add cost, Ms Kron said.
“Function over form,” she said. “Any costs to the exterior will take away from function of gathering community together in the building.”
Fairfield Hills Authority members held a brief meeting after the presentation to begin discussion.
They moved to modify the master plan to reflect the community center’s placement, with the next step being to approve the site plan so construction can get started, which Mr Benson said meant approving the building’s footprint. He also advised members that they can pass “any recommendations to [the Planning and Zoning Commission, (P&Z)] that you want.” He told them that they could “say in a motion” that they are uncertain of particular features, such as the roof design.
About the community center design, Mr Benson said, “Negative or positive, referrals go to P&Z, and your opinion on the rendering is passed on … you can recommend to P&Z to make changes.”
Members again questioned the roof design, function, and expense.
Despite convening to discuss and possibly act on recommendations for the most recent community center and senior center plans, the authority opted to delay any decision to the special meeting July 12.