FAIRFIELD – With work at Penfield Pavilion underway, town officials questioned the delay of a $100,000 flood resiliency study and increased construction insurance costs.
At last week’s finance board meeting, chief administrative officer Thomas Bremer said the town received approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin needed remediation and construction work at the noncompliant pavilion.
But without a completed study of potential flood mitigation efforts for the pavilion or final construction costs, finance board members were left worried about the project’s future.
Penfield Pavilion – which was rebuilt in 2015 after Hurricane Sandy – currently violates state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection standards for contaminants like PCBs and asbestos, which lay below both the structure and the parking lot, and violates FEMA floodplain management regulations as its grade beams were constructed above the natural grade.
Faced with the decision to either demolish the pavilion or address its violations, the town bodies approved a $10.6 million appropriation to remove the contamination and lower the grade in March. Included in that funding was $100,000 to study and suggest potential flood mitigation efforts after nearby residents said they were concerned that lowering the pavilion’s grade would mean increased risk of flooding for the neighborhood.
A delayed flood study
Last week, Bremer told the finance board that, according to the contracted coastal engineering firm – RACE Coastal Engineering, LLC – the study will likely finish in December or January. But given that the study’s funding was approved six months ago, board members questioned the delay.
“I thought the $100,000 [study] was going to be conducted relatively quickly and complete before construction started on Penfield. So I was a little surprised that you didn’t even go out to RACE to consider the scope until two months ago,” member Craig Curley said.
According to Bremer, the town first presented RACE with the scope of the study a few months ago. After some discussion, he said the town, the Fairfield Flood and Erosion Control Board and RACE revised the scope, further delaying the start of the study.
Curley said he thought the town would have immediately contacted RACE after the board had approved the funding in March, and used the study to adjust the construction plans as needed.
“I have to believe that, had the study been started sooner, it could have been completed by now,” Curley said. “And that information would be valuable to the Penfield project.”
But Bremer maintained that, no matter the results of the study, the town wouldn’t have changed its plans for the pavilion. Rather, he said, RACE will model its study based on the current construction plans.
But on Tuesday, Flood and Erosion Control Board Chair Rebecca Bunnell told CT Examiner she also expected the study to be completed by now.
After the town approved the study funding, Bunnell said, her board immediately prepared a proposed scope of work for RACE, submitted it to the town by early April and expected the study to begin around May or June. According to her, the board sent numerous requests to the town to schedule a meeting to discuss the study, but didn’t meet until mid-July to revise the scope.
“I was sort of surprised that it took as long as it did, and it’s still taking as long as it did,” Bunnell said.
If Fairfield had the study results now, Bunnell said, they would have a better understanding of potential mitigation opportunities to incorporate into the construction plans, such as adjusting road elevations. Instead, she said work at the pavilion will likely span beyond the estimated 12- to 15-month timeline.
While she is “not happy” with the current timeline, Bunnell added that Fairfield may still have time to modify the pavilion according to the study, so long as the town stays on track.
Bremer told CT Examiner on Tuesday that there was never a timeline attached to the study. He also said the town first asked RACE to start the study in April – immediately after finance board approval.
“The fact is that this company was first engaged to undertake the pertinent wave and scour analysis to enable the Penfield construction to proceed as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “After this work was delivered, the company was immediately engaged to begin the resiliency study.”
Bremer said it is his goal to complete the mitigation process – which includes getting the suggestions from RACE and determining which are permissible by meeting with DEEP and FEMA – as soon as possible, but that RACE controls its own timeline.
Also at the finance board meeting, Bremer announced he secured builder’s risk insurance in early September, an ongoing hurdle the town faced over the last few months.
At an April Board of Selectmen meeting, Bremer told officials that insurance companies were reluctant to take the project, but said he was trying to secure the “most cost-effective” insurance for the town. After that meeting, officials and residents continued to request updates at monthly meetings, questioning the consequences if Fairfield could not secure insurance.
Bremer told finance board members he was unsure of the final cost of insurance last week, but estimated it was about $200,000 more than originally projected. But on Tuesday, he told CT Examiner the insurance costs total $382,654.
Bremer explained to the board that the town opted for a standard builder’s risk policy covering about $12 million from Lloyd’s of London, a British insurance market that also services the United States.
While Bremer ironed out insurance costs, he said he still doesn’t know the final construction costs.
“We need to finish the whole project, in terms of the budget, first, and then I can have a more intelligent conversation about what to do about the insurance,” he said.
Finance board members pushed back last week, requesting that Bremer determine the final prices as soon as possible, and update the board on any additional costs in the meantime.
“No offense – you just randomly threw out $200,000 more than we thought,” member Jack Testani said. “I’m not sure what that means in terms of what the actual town dollars are.”
Bremer assured the board that he will publicize all construction and remediation costs once the final budget is done.
Bremer told CT Examiner that the town will have a “clearer picture” of the costs in two to three weeks after the contractor bidding process is complete. In the meantime, he said, Fairfield will continue its remediation efforts.
“We expect to begin remediating the parking lot before Penfield Pavilion as we continue these negotiations,” he said.