When funds are in hand to repair a failing footbridge at Mead Park—whether that money comes from the town or is raised privately—the structure itself should mirror a proposed new footbridge, so that together they help form a cohesive World War II memorial walk there, parks officials say.
The “Gold Star Walk”—a footpath along the northern and eastern edges of Mead Pond that’s dedicated to the 38 New Canaan men who died during Second World War—requires two bridges to traverse the underground streams that supply the pond’s water.
Though its foundation is secure, the decking and handrails on one of those bridges, already in place, are in dire need of replacement—an approximately $15,000 to $17,000 job.
A private group led by 1947 New Canaan High School graduate Jim Bach has secured nearly all of the $37,000 needed to build the second footbridge, but the two structures aesthetically must look exactly alike, according to local landscape architect Keith Simpson, who is helping him.
“What I am afraid of is that we will get the funds to do this [new bridge] and it will look really good, and then this [existing bridge] will be band-aided by the town with a way that goes about doing things ‘financially’ and the two bridges will actually never look alike,” Simpson told members of the Park & Recreation Commission during their regular meeting Wednesday.
“So I would rather put some effort into trying to get some private money to make this [existing bridge] the way the other [proposed] bridge is. And then we can have a park that we can really be proud of. This is Mead Park. This is the original park, before we had Waveny. This is the downtown park.”
Ultimately, Park & Rec approved 8-0 a motion to recommend that the town proceed with plans for the new bridge as proposed and that repairs to the deck and rails of the existing bridge mirror its design.
No one disagrees that the existing bridge—located at the northeastern corner of the pond, near a boulder that bears a plaque listing the names of the New Canaan servicemen who died during World War II—is dangerous in its current state and requires more than a “band-aid” repair, Recreation Director Steve Benko said. (Benko’s own uncle, Lewis, died at Iwo Jima—all five Benko boys of that generation had enlisted during the war, and their parents kept a flag outside their Summer Street home that featured five stars, one for each child.)
“Quite frankly, it needs to be shut down tomorrow,” Benko said of the existing footbridge.
Town officials made reference to out-year capital funds earmarked to repair the footbridge, though no such funding appears on the town’s fluid 5-Year Capital Projects Plan.
Simpson himself said he would “lead the opposition to a band aid” of the existing bridge—for example, drilling more bolts through its steel beams—“because I am going to say that this [new] bridge will last 50 years and this [existing] bridge will last five.”
Securing private funds for such a project is more difficult than for creating the new footbridge, Simpson said, “because a lot of people look at that and say, ‘That is a screaming deficiency in the town’s attention to maintenance.’ ”
Though she stopped short of promising the funds, Park & Rec Chairman Sally Campbell noted that town funding bodies would be more likely to approve monies for repairing the footbridge because a “public-private partnership” was already in place “to address issues in this park.”
“Then next year at the capital budget season, I think they would be more apt to approve the repair of the second bridge,” she said. “I can’t guarantee that. But that is how they seem to work.”
She added: “I think by getting this one done it will highlight the need to do the other one. Sometimes you just need to focus on it.”
The question of who will pay for those repairs has lingered for years. Campbell’s comments follow a meeting where Park & Rec stopped short of voicing official support for any plan at Mead Park because Bach’s group didn’t have the money in hand to carry out its project.
That was still the case as of the meeting, though Simpson said a generous donation put the group very close to its $37,000 mark on the new bridge.
Commissioners asked how long it would take to repair that footbridge (two or three weeks), how quickly it could get done (hopefully by May, pending approval this month from the Inland Wetlands Commission), whether those local families who lost relatives during WWII would be willing to donate (perhaps, and maybe too members of the condominiums up on Park Street whose rear decks and balconies look down on the pond) and whether Simpson’s plan included drainage (yes).
The overall idea with the new footbridge, Simpson said, is to create for Mead Park visitors “the experience of walking around the pond edge” for the entire length of the Gold Star Walk “as opposed to being pushed up onto Richmond Hill and have to come around.”
One feature of the Gold Star Walk is that a flowering tree is planted for each of its dedicatees. Simpson said the trees occasionally die though it isn’t clear until spring which ones must be replaced when he can see “whether they leaf out.”