[Editor's note: The following letter to the editor was submitted by resident Jim Gallagher.]
To the Editor:
As the Town of Fairfield considers different options for the rehabilitation of the storm-damaged Penfield Pavilion, I have become very distressed by the misinformation which surrounds this building. As Chairman of the Building Committee which oversaw the project, I have a very good understanding of the design and construction of the building.
Penfield Pavilion was constructed as a two phase project, with the eastern wing housing the lockers constructed first, at a cost of approximately $1.5 million. The second phase, which was overseen by the Building Committee, included demolition of the old pavilion and design and construction of the gathering room, decks, and concession. The building design included enormous concrete footings to support the building and provide ballast during high wind conditions. The footings and the soils upon which they were constructed were determined to be sound by an independent engineering firm during the construction process. This phase was budgeted at slightly less than $3.5 million and it was supported by all governmental boards and commissions. There were more than 20 public meetings of the Building Committee during the project process. The building project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
The pavilion was designed and constructed in compliance with all local, State, and Federal guidelines and premium materials and skilled craftsmen were utilized.
Out of respect for the neighbors in the beach area, the pavilion was designed and constructed in exactly the same location as the old pavilion and the height of the new building was kept equal to the old building, though the elevation of the finished floor levels were considerably higher to comply with newer FEMA requirements.
To provide some protection to the neighborhood from flood waters, since the required design of the new building left a considerable opening between the sand and the bottom of the building, a skirt was constructed at the perimeter of the exposed decks to minimize the effects of tidal surges into the neighborhood. Flooding is certainly not a new phenomenon in the Fairfield Beach neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, the skirt was damaged by floating debris during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and the neighborhood was flooded and some minor damage occurred to the footings beneath the building. After the flooding, unrealistically blamed upon the failure of this skirt, the Town leaders, in a kneejerk reaction, decided to build a wooden bulkhead wall surrounding the Pavilion. This new bulkhead was not considered, designed, or constructed by the building committee or its agents. It was erected after the pavilion was designed and constructed and its potential negative impacts on the building, its footings, and the neighborhood were never considered.
The storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 breached this bulkhead wall and caused torrents of water to flow beneath the pavilion and into the neighborhood. The damage to the pavilion was caused when trapped and swirling water beneath the building eroded the sand and soil beneath these heavy footings and caused them to sink, dragging the building framing with them.
The structure of the building, however, was so strong that it suspended these 20-ton footings without breaking. The tidal surge which had entered the neighborhoods was then prevented by the bulkhead wall from receding back to Long Island Sound and the trapped flood waters resulted in even further damage to the neighborhood and pavilion footings. Some have questioned why similar damage did not occur at Penfield II or at the Fairfield Beach Club, and you will notice that neither of these buildings have such a bulkhead wall.
Although Penfield Pavilion has suffered damage, the damage is not catastrophic. The building can be repaired and restored to its original condition. The building structure was not damaged by the tidal surge. It was damaged by the effects upon the footings. It is interesting to note that not one window in the building fractured.
The suggestions to raise the elevation of the Pavilion even higher than it currently stands or move the structure further into the parking lot and elevate it higher make no sense. The current elevation of the building saved the structure from flood damage.
Although I’m happy for our neighbors in New York, it was extremely frustrating to watch the hot dog eating contest from Coney Island, which has completely recovered from even more devastating damage from Storm Sandy, while the restoration of our Pavilion wallows in a bureaucratic quagmire. We need to remove this bulkhead wall and restore the pavilion in its current location and current elevation and let’s move forward.