Letter: Preserve the Historic ‘Brick Barn’ in Mead Park

As the Town Council ponders the future of the historic buildings owned by the Town, the undersigned is writing on behalf of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance (NCPA) about the Brick Barn in Mead Park.

Built in 1901 by the Standard Oil Company (now ExxonMobil) as a stable for horses to pull tank wagons of kerosene to customers in New Canaan, the historic building has a long history of use by New Canaan organizations, and is listed on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places. It was one of the first fuel “service stations”, and is one of the last remaining of its genre. The various civic groups that used the building over the past 117 years include a WWII sewing group for the troops; several veterans groups; the Town Band; as a changing room for school football teams; and most recently as the Town wood working shop and storage for Parks & Recreation. Over the past 20 years, the building has been unoccupied and has fallen in disrepair, as the Town ceased maintaining the building.

In 2010 the Town Council voted to demolish the Brick Barn. However, the cost to do so was on the order of $400,000 due to the statutory need to remediate significant asbestos and lead contamination identified by an independent testing laboratory. The structure was ultimately not torn down due to the expense. At the time, the New Canaan Preservation Alliance proposed restoring and re-purposing the building for public use, and began researching possible funding sources and tenants. However, the then First Selectman was totally unsupportive of the initiative, and the proposal went nowhere.

Fast forward to 2018. The Town Building Committee has recommended demolition of the Brick Barn and a budget of $65,000 has been approved for the demolition. However, the Building Committee also stipulated that it would consider saving the building, if a civic group agreed to take over the cost of restoration and maintenance. The New Canaan Preservation Alliance has been working quietly over the past six months to identify an appropriate civic group to use the building. We have had two well-known local historic preservation architects inspect the building, and develop estimates for its rehabilitation. We have also been in touch with the Connecticut State Department of Health regarding asbestos remediation and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection regarding lead abatement. The NCPA has also been working to identify national historic preservation foundations that might help fund restoration of the Town-owned building.

The derelict state of the “Richmond Hill Garage at Mead Par,” aka the “Brick Barn,” is grossly exaggerated in the report of the Building Evaluation and Use Committee according to the preservation architects engaged by the NCPA. The building is currently being demolished by neglect. Depending on the use, it is estimated that renovation could cost as much as $400,000, about the same as the cost of demolition, if all state and federal hazardous waste remediation regulations are observed!

The NCPA is pleased to announce that the New Canaan Baseball Association is very interested in using the Brick Barn for storage and as a center for its many activities in Mead Park. A letter of interest from the Baseball Association is attached. This civic organization, with over 350 family members, and thousands of family alumnae members, has a long history of partnering with the Town in revitalizing and maintaining Town playing fields. Further, the NCPA is making progress in identifying historic preservation foundations that may contribute to restoration of this historic building. We also plan to approach the ExxonMobil Foundation, and are currently looking for the right entry contact.

Also attached is some documentation that shows how a very derelict former brick firehouse in Roxbury, MA was restored to its present glory and use by civic organizations. We view this as representative of what the Brick Barn can be in a restored state with attractive foundation planting. It might even be possible to use the building as a warming hut for winter ice-skating. Letters in support of the historic preservation of the Brick Barn by Senator Blumenthal and  the United States Park Service are also attached. Those who claim the building has no historic significance are ill-informed.

Demolition of the building will require significant regulatory approval. As a Connecticut listed historic place, the Town must justify demolition of the building to the State. There are many hazardous waste permit filings required by the State from the Town and the demolition contractor. The rules for hazardous waste remediation have not changed despite what the Building Committee stated in its report. Has New Canaan submitted a current independent hazardous waste inspection report to the State? Is the contractor licensed to do hazardous waste removal? There are very serious state and federal fines for taking waste remediation short cuts. The demolition bid in 2010, which took hazmat into consideration, was $418,000. Will the $65,000 budget appropriation cover the hazmat requirements? The legal consequences of not doing so can be substantial for New Canaan.

The NCPA and the New Canaan Baseball Association request that the Town Council suspend plans to demolish the Brick Barn, and give us time to develop and execute a plan to restore and repurpose the Brick Barn. The building has been there for 117 years, and has served the community well throughout the 20th Century. There is no urgency to remove the barn. We truly believe it can be an asset for the Town and thousands of New Canaan families in the 21st Century.

Respectfully,

Skip Hobbs

Board Member

New Canaan Preservation Alliance

7 thoughts on “Letter: Preserve the Historic ‘Brick Barn’ in Mead Park

  1. Those who want to preserve it should pay to do so – instead of expecting someone else to foot the bill.

  2. What will we have left if the heritage of New Canaan is taken away????
    I think people working together, all of us can foot the bill one way or another.
    N, Jensen

  3. If the Town is so anxious to spend $400,000 to demolish the barn, calling it an “eyesore,” why doesn’t it spend half that amount to fix the exterior so it is not an “eyesore”? I think it’s “cute” as you drive down Grove street – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A park view is pretty much the same no matter from where, but a truly UNIQUE building is better than any park view, in my opinion.

  4. Well stated Skip! There’s history, architecture and usable space in the brick barn, and it can make economic sense to preserve it.

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