Are Danbury Hall and eight nearby houses on the Fairfield Hill Campus -- scheduled for demolition in October -- worthy of historic preservation?
The state's historic preservation office thinks they may be. In July, State Historic Preservation Officer Daniel Forrest sent a letter to project manager Elizabeth Stocker warning the entire campus appears to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Stocker, who also serves as Newtown's Economic Development director, is responsible for seeing through plans to tear down the buildings.
"It is SHPO's [State Historical Preservation Office] opinion that the demolition of nine buildings will have an adverse effect on this historic resource," Forrest wrote in the letter. He asked the town to spell out what alternatives to demolition it had considered, including "adaptive reuse" and redevelopment of the site by a third party.
After meeting with Historic Preservation and Environmental Protection Agency officials, Stocker revealed the letter for the first time at a Board of Selectmen meeting Monday night at the Municipal Center.
"That throws a little bit of a twist on things in terms of the requirements for our grant," she told selectmen. In July, the town approved a $250,000 bond to cover demoliton. But the EPA is covering some expenses, requiring the town to jump through a series of hoops before tearing down the building.
Stocker says she doesn't know why the state would want to preserve any buildings on the Fairfield Hills campus.
"They indicated the property, the campus, has some historic quality that makes it eligible," she told Patch. "That means we need to resolve the issue somehow. We're trying to deal with that now."
While selectmen said they were passionate about historic preservation, they expressed some incredulity the state could find a reason to hold on to the unused, dilapidated buildings on campus.
"One would think we're talking about preserving that wonderful period of mental health services from the '50s to the '70s," joked selectman Will Rodgers at the Monday meeting.
"I Don't Believe This Has Ever Come Up"
First Selectman Pat Llodra said this is the first she's heard of historic preservation concerns for Danbury Hall or other buildings at the Fairfield Hills campus.
"There's nothing in my files or experience that suggest we should have asked for the status," she said. "It's always the intention of the town to preserve what could be preserved -- the architecture in buildings like Stratford Hall ... Even the original Master Plan identified certain buildings to be demolished and certain buildings to be reused. There's never been any concern raised by the state office in any work we've done on campus. This is the first time we've ever had a shot across the bow from them."
Llodra said the town will move ahead with a hazardous materials abatement, which would be necessary anyway.
"The issue is abate, but preserve, and that goes to the bottom line," she said. "The issue was around demolition. Our goals for the campus are inconsistent right now with the views of other policy makers. We have to come to understandings and agreements that make sense for our community. We will get there."
In the meantime, Llodra says, the town will continue discussion with the state's historical office and town legal counsel.
The Fairfield Hills Authority is scheduled to discuss the Danbury Hall demolition at their regular meeting Wednesday night at the Municipal Center. Stocker says she'll tell the commission the same thing she told selectmen. Other than dealing with the historic preservation issue, she says federal requirements for the demolition have almost been finalized.
"We've got a couple of technical reports that are still being worked out," she says. "That's about it."
Forrest was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday morning.