Calling the “paddle hut” at Waveny a beautiful and underutilized town-owned building that could meet rising demand for special events rental space, parks officials are recommending a cost-benefit analysis of expanding the structure’s use.
Available now on weekends only at $25 per hour, new rates for greater use of the renovated building could account for increased staffing and wear-and-tear, according to Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Sally Campbell.
“I think it is something that is worth exploring, because it is a town facility and the town would like to use it and if it is priced properly, I think it could be a nice amenity for people in town,” Campbell said during the group’s regular meeting on Nov. 11, held in the Douglass Room at Lapham Community Center.
“It is a nice building, it is an asset that sits there empty six months of the year and even during the season,” she added.
Campbell said she and commissioner Katie Owsley had reviewed the paddle hut’s financials and spoken to platform tennis players about what they like and don’t like about the sport’s program and availability of the building itself.
Recreation Director Steve Benko said there are some barriers to increasing the paddle hut’s use as a private party rental—right now, about 15 events are held there per year, he said. The furniture in the paddle hut cannot be moved out, so planners are locked into a certain interior configuration, Benko said, its capacity maxes out around 40 people and it can’t be shut down while platform tennis players are using the courts, because those people may need it.
“It’s kind of hard to do paddle [hut] parties if they are playing on the courts, guys cannot come in and use the hut,” Benko said. “When people are using the courts you really cannot run a party there, so that is why it ends up being mostly a Saturday night function, because you don’t have a lot of people that play on Saturday nights. But on Thursday night, when you have courts used to 10 o’clock at night, people use the bathroom.”
Benko added that the people who raised money for the building’s 2009 renovation were “very explicit” that it should not be rented out privately.
Asked whether that stipulation was in writing somewhere, Benko answer: “I don’t have it in writing but that’s what the people who raised the money said.”
Benko suggested that the commission look at the budget and figure out through a cost-benefit analysis whether expanding the paddle hut’s use would work.
The paddle program itself brought in revenue of about $35,000 in fiscal year 2015—from player fees and rentals—against operating expenses of about $40,000, for staffing and contracted services.
Owsley said that if the paddle hut were promoted as a special event location, “you might get more than” just a dozen or say bookings per year.
“And I think you could up the fee,” Owsley said.
She added that while agreeing to a modest loss for the overall paddle program “is one thing, it’s another thing if we are leaving money on the table when we have an opportunity.”
The paddle hut, a stone cottage that includes a fireplace, seating area, kitchen and two half-baths, also features a glass-enclosed observation area. The owner of the Waveny before the Lapham family, Thomas Hall, had purchased the property in 1894 and built a shingle style/Dutch colonial mansion, historians say. That grand home would be demolished by the Laphams less than 20 years later to make way for the Waveny House that New Canaanites know today. Hall also built several of the outbuildings that still stand, historians say, including the Power House, Carriage Barn, and possibly the Paddle Hut (Ruth Lloyd Lapham helped design the present-day Community Center building as a guest house).