Though some argued that it makes little sense to rush an irretrievable decision when a viable alternative has emerged, members of New Canaan’s legislative body and the first selectman on Wednesday pushed forward the demolition of a widely discussed brick structure on Richmond Hill Road.
New Canaan Baseball has said it’s interested in using the 1901-built, two-story structure, opposite the bottom of Grove Street, for meetings and storage.
Yet some on the Council questioned the organization’s ability to make the structure usable and maintain it.
“I am totally in favor of giving [New Canaan Baseball] a reasonable amount of time, but I think the building should be taken down unless there is a credible plan,” Moynihan told members of the Town Council as he cast a vote in favor of preserving the money for demolition.
It wasn’t immediately clear what are the criteria for “a credible plan,” or how long “a reasonable amount of time” is, though Councilmen noted that a 90-day delay is likely from the time the town applies for the demolition permit. Moynihan had said prior to the vote that “if you poll the town the majority of people would vote to take it down” and “you cannot preserve every building.”
“At some point we have to bite the bullet and make some choices,” he said.
Also prior to the vote, Town Council Chairman John Engel noted that it costs taxpayers nothing to leave the building alone while New Canaan Baseball works out its plan.
“Why would the town rush to spend $65,000 to demolish it when the town has not been willing to spend $65,000 to support this public-private initiative?” he said.
Engel as well as Councilmen Joe Paladino, Rich Townsend, Sven Englund, Tom Butterworth and Cristina A. Ross voted to remove funding for the demolition from the bonding package, while Liz Donovan, Jim Kucharczyk, Penny Young, Steve Karl, Christa Kenin and Mike Mauro voted to leave it in.
Butterworth said he didn’t know whether the structure was really worth saving but that he respected the efforts of some in town, such as Skip Hobbs, to preserve it.
“I kind of wish it was gone already but I want to respect the fact that people are making an argument,” he said. “ ‘Give me time to make this into something special while you are waiting for me’ doesn’t cost as much.”
Addressing Moynihan’s comment that a committee of the town had recommended in a December report that the building come down if there’s no third-party plan to fund its preservation, Ross noted that the Town Council never adopted the findings or recommendations of that committee.
“I am not going out on a limb by saying it [the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee’s report] is tilted toward one organization or another or toward doing things to move forward some of the buildings that I do not personally agree with, therefore just because the building report says [something] doesn’t mean that it is or that most of us support it.”
Councilman Penny Young, one of the co-chairs of that committee, noted that the Town Council eight years ago voted to approve funds to demolish the building, and underscored that what’s needed is not only an interest in using it but a demonstrated ability to support the structure through its life.
Steve Karl said he respected and appreciated Hobbs and the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, while also saying that “there are certain buildings that do not merit” such investments. Karl said that $250,000 would not even start to make the Brick Barn usable in the way that New Canaan Baseball envisions, and that the organization itself, with leadership that turns over naturally, is structured in a way that saddling it with such a building would hamper it.
“You are putting another burden on the town and you just cannot do that,” Karl said.
As someone who has been deeply involved in and supportive of New Canaan Baseball for years, Karl added that the organization’s focus will be “the fields and putting money back into the things that kids will be able to play on, and safety,” saying it is “illogical” to expect them to put so much money into restoring a building just to store backstops.
The question of whether to demolish the Mead Park Brick Barn has divided the town for many years. Though the town did vote in favor of razing the building, doing so proved to be cost-prohibitive due to the need for asbestos and lead paint remediation, sending the estimated cost of demolition to about $400,000.
The new, far smaller figure emerged during the recent budget season.
Tiger Mann, New Canaan’s public works director, said the town had yet another environmental analysis done by a firm and separate environmental consultant, using reports from 2004 and 2008. They found that because the weight of the brick outweighed the lead, the wrecked Brick Barn could be disposed of as “not hazardous material,” driving down the cost. The $65,000 figure represents not just demo and carting, but also repairs to restore the area (he noted that local landscape architect Keith Simpson has created a “very nice plan” for the area).
Preservationists in submitting opinion pieces to NewCanaanite.com voiced strong support for New Canaan Baseball’s plan, saying that the organization is a natural fit given its long life already at Mead Park and pointing to the success of similar public-private partnerships in preserving buildings elsewhere.
The funds to raze the structure are part of a larger proposed bonding package that covered dozens of separate capital items around New Canaan.