Building committee reacts against New Canaan's 'grandiose' Town Hall designs
The calls came loud and clear from the Town Hall Building Committee on Monday, Feb. 11, to reduce in size, scale and cost the possible designs for the new facility.
The project has a $12 million budget and will create a considerably more spacious, modern building, while maintaining the front facade. Plans are still preliminary at this point and a public meeting will be held in March before anything is finalized.
"I always viewed this addition as a modernization, in a utilitarian fashion, that accommodates our needs," said Randy Salvatore, Town Hall Building Committee III vice chairman, of the plans presented at the meeting.
"That's not what that is. That's an architectural statement that comes at a high cost and detracts from the front."
Salvatore noted that most New Canaan residents only go into Town Hall once or twice a year, and that it is primarily town employees who use the building.
The attention to the size of the building arose after bids for general contracting came in higher than expected, according to First Selectman Robert Mallozzi. The cost estimate for the roughly 39,000 square foot building would put current designs in the territory of $14 million.
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"I think this has overstated the extent of our project and it needs to go back," said building committee member Neil Budnick.
Such was the general consensus among those on the committee. KSQ Architects agreed to go back to the proverbial drawing board and return in two weeks with new plans, which fit the limitations of the budget and the committee. According to head architect Armand Quadrini, about 4,000 square feet would have to be removed in order to keep the building at its $12 million budget.
Since the new building will be bigger, it will take up some of the space currently used for parking.
"There are 64 spaces at Town Hall now. The proposed plan has 32," said Mike Pastore, town director of Public Works. "This has been acknowledged from the beginning. We need to get around 40 more spaces."
Pastore made a few suggestions for how to obtain the additional spaces, many of which would be taken up by the land use departments -- Building; Planning and Zoning; Health; and Inland Wetlands -- which are all currently located on Weed Street. One of his suggestions was to use about 40 of the spaces behind the current Town Hall parking lot, which he called the Park Street lot. Another suggestion includes leaving the land use departments on Weed Street until a Locust Avenue parking lot is built.
A response to that came quickly from Salvatore.
"We're going to spend all this money to build a building and then leave them there for an indefinite period of time for a parking lot which doesn't have plans even in the works yet? To build this whole building and not be able to move someone in doesn't seem to me to be the best approach."
The proposed Locust Avenue parking lot is a $3.5 million project to build a garage-type deck. The funding has been included in the out years (those years down the line where costs are estimated but not official) of the town's budget but has not been appropriated nor designed yet.
Mallozzi agreed that a Town Hall lacking necessary parking would not be a viable option.
"Parking has always been the clarion call of this town," he said.
The committee also questioned whether and how the size of the departments' offices could be cut. Committee member Kathleen Corbet focused on the fact that the Human Resources Department in the design was big enough to contain about 12 workers. She noted that until recent years, the department only had one employee.
Today, HR has one full-time and one part-time worker and two employees who split their tasks between HR and Finance, according to Human Resources Director Cheryl Jones.
Since the renovation is necessary in part because of how cramped the building is with the current number of employees, Mallozzi did not want to pay so much just to see the new building turn out to be cramped as well.
"The main driver of this was to talk about growth," Mallozzi said.
Other complaints included the size of the side entrance as well as the interior atrium. Some thought those aspects of the plan were overly grandiose, especially considering that the side entrance looks out onto what is now an alley, although in the plans it is designed to be more like a piazza. There was also a fear that the new side entrance would overshadow the grandeur of the main entrance.
KSQ Architects has a lot to rework in the next two weeks, before the next building committee meeting.
"We'll take the steroids out of the entrance so it doesn't compete as much with the front," said Quadrini, listing one of the alterations that will amount to what he said would be heavily redrawn plans.
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