FAIRFIELD – Fairfield employees say the Penfield Pavilion clean up effort is a simple one, but several officials worry that lasting impacts from previous town mistakes could hinder the project.
At a Monday Board of Selectmen meeting, three town employees outlined draft contracts with construction managers, architects and environmental engineers, while Interim Department of Public Works Manager John Marsilio assured officials that they could handle the project.
“This is not a complicated project. This is a very simple project,” Marsilio said. “There’s only a couple moving parts here.”
But two board members – Republican Thomas Flynn and Democrat Nancy Lefkowitz – questioned exactly how simple the project would be, especially given required, ongoing communications between the town and FEMA, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and EPA due to outstanding violations at the pavilion.
“The last people that said something like this wasn’t complicated was the last time we rebuilt this thing,” Flynn said.
“To the average resident, this is complicated,” Lefkowitz added. “It’s happened before. It’s been expensive.”
In 2015, FEMA awarded the town $4.3 million to replace the pavilion after it was damaged in Hurricane Sandy, but – without FEMA approval – the previous administration repaired it instead. Following unfulfilled requests to halt construction and uphold minimum floodplain management regulations, the agency issued the town a notice of violation.
Numerous former town employees and outside contractors also face charges for their involvement in a fill pile scandal, in which contaminated fill was used in the construction of almost 40 sites across Fairfield, including Penfield Pavilion. Last month, the town approved a $10.5 million appropriation to remove contaminants from below the building and uphold FEMA-grade regulations.
Marsilio reiterated that the actual remediation and construction efforts are simple, but said coordination with the regulatory agencies would be “a little clunky.”
Lefkowitz, however, pointed to another ongoing problem – construction insurance.
“I think the statement was made that they went out to bid … to like 30 or 40 companies and they couldn’t get a bite,” she said, recalling a recent discussion among Board of Finance members.
Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Bremmer assured the board that Fairfield would not move forward with the project without insurance, but confirmed insurance companies’ reluctance.
“My understanding is that there are a number of local insurance companies that know about Penfield and are reticent to insure it, and they’d rather not get involved,” he said. “Be that as it may, we’re still confident that we’ll be able to get some insurance.”
Lefkowitz told CT Examiner after the meeting that the hesitancy was a clear example of the lasting consequences from previous missteps.
“It just goes to show you in terms of the history and how we are paying the price of the [building’s past],” she said. “We’re seeing it play out when insurers are hesitant to sign on.”
Both Lefkowitz and Flynn asked the town employees – Marsilio, Bremmer and engineering project manager Elias Ghazal – to strive for transparency, whether that be through their planned monthly updates to the board, uploading bid documents for the public or providing records of their conversations.
“This is going to be high profile, and I don’t want your butt on the line without having it documented,” Flynn said.
First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said that between communications with FEMA, DEEP and EPA and the town employees, there would be a “tremendous amount of oversight” on the project.
“I feel confident in [Ghazal, Marsilio and Bremmer] to be watching our project,” Kupchick said.
The town employees said they would make project decisions themselves and provide the board with monthly updates, rather than creating a volunteer-led building committee.
Flynn said he supported the exclusion of a building committee for several reasons – the complexity of navigating FEMA and DEEP regulations, the constrained timeline and the pavilion’s history.
“When you’re bringing in volunteers and things like this to try to get this done on a timely enough basis, I think that could slow this process down,” Flynn said. “… Getting a new panel selected of volunteers, given the history of what’s going on and [has] transpired with this building, and the risk involved with this, I think would be problematic.”
Lefkowitz told CT Examiner she had been advocating for a building committee to make pavilion decisions, but explained that if Marsilio, Ghazal and Bremmer were to include a Finance Department employee in their conversations, she would have no objections.
“If they include a finance person, which they’re open to doing … then at least on the outside, in good faith, I think it’s OK,” Lefkowitz said. “I don’t have objections at this point.”
According to the draft construction and remediation contracts, which the board plans to sign at its May 1 meeting, pavilion construction will start on Sept. 5.