After the idea first surfaced at last month’s Forum on Public Buildings, the nonprofit organization that runs youth baseball in New Canaan on Thursday formally proposed using a disused town-owned brick structure on Richmond Hill Road for storage and meetings.
New Canaan Baseball officials in a May 10 letter to the selectmen and Town Council said the building known as the “Brick Barn” or “Richmond Hill Garage” would be more suitable for storage than a town-owned shed at Waveny and could offer more uses.
“New Canaan Baseball would like to formally express our interest in the above property,” NCBB Co-Presidents Rob Moore and Brian Rogers said in the letter, obtained by NewCanaanite.com. “We need to fully understand the financial impact and commitment of inhabiting the space but we are willing to explore the next steps.”
“We recognize that the Barn needs repairs and upgrading, and have seen preliminary estimates,” the letter said. “The main room on the ground floor provides us some raw space we could use with some modifications. We are cautiously optimistic the costs will be manageable over time and we hope that grant money coupled with some modest funding by the organization will enable us to utilize the space for our organization.”
Specifically, Moore and Rogers said, they’d use the building to store things like pitching machines, baseballs, catcher’s gear and first aid kits, board meetings, team drafts, light trainer and education and as a severe weather shelter.
The question of what to do about the building has lingered in New Canaan for years.
Town officials about 10 years ago decided to raze the building, but the high cost of contaminant remediation—said to be several hundred thousand dollars—prevented the actual demolition. Then the Town Council during the budget season just ended included $65,000 to knock down the building, leading some at the April 26 forum to question how the cost had dropped so dramatically—a question that fetched no definitive answers at the panel discussion.
The Mead Park Brick Barn, which was listed on the CT Register of Historic Places in 2016, was built by Standard Oil in the early 1900s. It’s the last remaining structure of the company’s industrial complex and perhaps the last of its type in the state. The town purchased the land surrounding the industrial complex in 1915 and then the complex itself in 1933. The complex has been used as a town garage and storage facility for the Department of Public Works for the past two decades.
The question of New Canaan Baseball’s proposed use of the building first was aired publicly at the Forum on Public Buildings. There, Town Council Chairman John Engel said the organization had not yet made a formal proposal to the town. Town officials including members of the now-disbanded Town Building Evaluation and Use Committee have said the building should be demolished unless individual or organization comes forward to fund renovation for town-sanctioned use with endowment for lifetime maintenance.
Some advocates for the building’s preservation have questioned why the town wouldn’t allow for more time—say, one year—for that individual or organization to materialize. Those in attendance at the forum also asked why there appeared to be such a rush given that the building costs the town nothing right now (as opposed to the vacant former Outback Teen Center, for example, which still costs $50,000 annually).
New Canaan Baseball in making its case that the garage would be a “perfect home” noted that in the 64 years of its existence it has invested more than $1 million into Mead Park projects. It currently is undertaking a major renewal of the little league fields.