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A Look At Future Uses For FFH Buildings



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Rubble Or Refinished—

A Look At Future Uses For FFH Buildings

By Kendra Bobowick

Standing quietly like old furniture draped in cloth, the brick buildings occupying Fairfield Hills wait for developers to either uncover them for reuse or make plans for their demolition.

For several years Fairfield Hills Authority members and campus redevelopment planners have known that some buildings would fall while others would be used again.

As heavy machinery and demolition crews focused on dismantling Fairfield House this week, authority Chairman Robert Geckle said a variety of factors helped determine the buildings’ futures. Interior layout could mean a space would be easily reoccupied, or cumbersome to renovate.

“Buildings in the back [of campus] had individual rooms, were high security patient buildings, so they wouldn’t lend themselves to reuse,” he said.

Other buildings presented an open drawing board for renovations. Bridgeport Hall, for example, holds a central place in the campus’s overall redevelopment and its wide halls and open main rooms will readily convert to both municipal and education department offices. Bridgeport is slated to serve as the new town hall.

Mr Geckle said planners also had to consider each building’s degree of deterioration. “The general condition and location were factors,” Mr Geckle said. Shelton House, which stands parallel to Bridgeport Hall, sat in an ideal location for a new town hall. Building inspection, however, uncovered thorough water damage and architects had advised the authority to refocus on town hall locations.

Since the town purchased the property in 2001, officials had anticipated that a cluster of buildings would have to be removed. The Fairfield Hills Master Plan as of 2003 stated, “Just as the natural environment forms the framework for future use of the campus, the existing structures form a framework for future use. Several of the existing structures were identified…for potential reuse.” Ten buildings were selected for their possible reuse potential at that time. The structures were Bridgeport Hall, Canaan House, Cochran House, Greenwich House, Kent House, Newtown and Plymouth Halls, Shelton House, and Stratford and Woodbury Halls.

Litchfield, Bridgewater, Yale, and Danbury Houses were slated to fall. Cochran and Greenwich subsequently joined the demolition list.

After assessing the buildings, Mr Geckle explained, “If no use presented itself [the buildings] will probably be demolished.” In fact, private developer and local businessman Peter D’Amico has proposed a sports complex and selected a site where Bridgewater House now stands. The building will be demolished.

Receiving the most attention in the last year are Fairfield House and Bridgeport Hall. Construction Manager O&G Industries, Inc representatives are currently at work overseeing Fairfield’s demolition and the beginnings of baseball field construction, which residents can observe. Also in the past year O&G representatives have been finalizing blueprints and schemes for the new town hall reconfiguration. Crews are currently working on Phase I for the new town hall, which entails abatement and demolition, said Project Manager David Cravanzola with O&G.

“The goal is to get hazardous material out,” he said.

He anticipates that work at Bridgeport Hall will start by later this month.

“Some additions that were put on have deteriorated,” he said. Removing those portions will help restore the original structure, he said. Loosely, the timeline will see demolition of the additions completed by November.

Also under O&G’s scope is the playing field. “Fairfield House is obviously coming down, and that’s all we’re contracted for.”

As work continues into the late days of summer, a glance back at the master plan offers a reminder of redevelopment goals. The document, available through the town’s website at www.newtown-ct.gov, states, “One or more of the existing structures should be renovated and adapted for use as town offices and possibly educational uses.”

The document continues, “Structures within the entry plaza should be renovated for economic development activity…a core area of the campus should be reserved for revenue generating economic development…”

In keeping with these economic goals, the authority is currently discussing options with developers interested in the campus.

Will residents be seeing signs for a new restaurant or hear about new medical suites in the future? “Those are two good guesses,” Robert Geckle said. No lease agreements have been signed, however.

In a request for proposal document aimed at interested developers — also visible through the town website — lease rates are included.

As far as revenue for the town is concerned Mr Geckle said, “We’re getting confirmation that our numbers are in the ballpark.” The authority is also hearing proposals to develop land in the core area set aside for economic development.

Answering to potential questions about the proposed revenue the campus will generate, Mr Geckle said, “I don’t think we ever purported this would be the economic savior of Newtown. I think we’re looking for some revenue and maybe some residents will have a place to work.” 

He anticipates some return from lease structures and property taxes. “In my view, a dollar in the hand is better than no dollars.” The town will retain ownership of all buildings and property and plans to enter into longtime lease arrangements.

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