When Connecticut's Office of Historical Preservation raised concerns in July about whether several soon-to-be-demolished buildings on Fairfield Hills campus could be worth preserving, town officials were incredulous. Some said the nine run-down buildings on the Fairfield Hills campus -- Danbury Hall and eight staff houses -- couldn't possibly have any preservation appeal.
"You'd think we were talking about preserving that wonderful period of mental health services from the '50s to the '70s," selectman Will Rodgers joked at a Board of Selectmen meeting.
Now Newtown officials say the hurdle has been lifted. First Selectman Pat Llodra told Legislative Council members last week the state's Department of Economic and Community Development would soon issue a document allowing demolition to continue -- although the town will be working more closely with the state's Department of Economic and Community Development from here on.
Legislative Council chair Jeff Capeci described the move as "the light at the end of the tunnel."
"I think there was an absence of awareness of how much preparation we'd already done ... the many, many hundreds of thousand of dollars the town has already committed," Llodra told the council. "I think the commissioners that asked to remove those buildings perhaps were not as informed as they could have been. Now they are."
Llodra explained the department's July letter as the result of a lack of information.
"The case was what we suspected at the beginning: the office simply didn't know we'd already did ten years of planning," she said at a Monday Board of Finance meeting. "[W]e informed them, engaged them and convinced them our plan was in the best interests of the community."
In the future, she said, the town will start a closer dialogue with state economic development officials.
"The department will look for us to work with them over the next -- however long it takes -- to develop a plan to engage them more directly in the planning and redeveloping of the campus," she told Patch. "They just want to be involved."
The July letter from historic preservation officer Daniel Forrest said the demolition "will have an adverse effect on this historic resource," but did not spell out what effects it could have. The Historical Preservation office has traditionally worked with towns and cities to ensure local leaders are exploring all possibilities for reuse before tearing down buildings that could have valuable architecture or significance.
Llodra said the town has done a "tremendous amount of work" to examine the campus for reuse potential.
"[The state Department of Economic and Community Development] are going to be looking to try to help us find reuse plans," Llodra said.
She added the town is looking "all the time" for any reuse for Fairfield Hills, but hadn't found any way to repurpose Danbury Hall or the staff houses specifically.
Not everyone agrees Fairfield Hills' buildings should disappear. After the initial story on the letter, one reader said Newtown officials missed a chance by not considering historical preservation in the first place.
"I applaud the States' interest in saving the obviously historic architecture of the campus," wrote reader paramountresidential. "The remaining buildings, once abated, are more than able to be fully restored but we know that is not the intention of the town, which allowed them to be open to the weather causing accelerated deterioration and playing into their scheme of demolishing every building along the way."
Llodra said the hazardous waste abatement will continue on schedule, with demolition to be pursued afterwards.