News Column

Seaside may get another look

June 21, 2014

By Tess Townsend, The Day, New London, Conn.

June 21--WATERFORD -- A new assessment of one of the buildings on the property of the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled states that the nurses' residence "is an excellent candidate for reuse," and the State Historic Preservation Office recommends further structural assessment of historic buildings on the property.

Waterford is eligible for special renewable grants from the state historic preservation office of up to $30,000 each to conduct an additional assessment, according to SHPO Director of Arts and Historic Preservation Daniel Forrest. He said Tuesday that if the town were to apply within a week, SHPO could dispersefunds and a firm could be on site conducting an evaluation by the end of the summer.

SHPO used an earlier assessment, commissioned by the state's preferred developer for the property Mark Steiner, in determining that it would be financially unfeasible to rehabilitate the buildings on the 80-year-old National Register of Historic Places site.

The previous property condition assessment from 2012 of the state-owned Long Island Sound property off Shore Road states that all four historic buildings on the premises are "in poor condition."

"In their current state, the subject structures cannot be made available to the public with a warranty or guarantee of their future structural performance," states the 2012 assessment by national environmental and engineering consulting firm GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. The Day received the report through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with SHPO, a state agency.

Forrest said in an email Thursday he had not seen the new assessment but that he was aware the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation had commissioned it.

"This provides even greater incentive to extend the assessments to the remaining historic buildings on the campus with the hope that they, too, can be feasibly adapted to new use and preserved for future generations," he wrote in the email.

The nonprofit historic preservation trust commissioned New Haven and Washington D.C.-basedstructural engineering firm Spiegel Zamecnik & Shah Inc. to conduct its own assessment, which is dated April 25. Trust Executive Director Helen Higgins said Tuesday the trust commissioned an assessment only of the nurses' building because an architect on the trust's board said he thought it was the most salvageable.

"We're advocates for preservation, and we understand fully that the project was going to be a complete replication, which adhered to the Secretary of the Interior Standards, but we're really curious about the nurses' building," she said.

U.S. Supreme Court and Woolworth Building architect Cass Gilbert designed the nurses' building and main hospital building, while New London architect Fred S. Langdon designed the two other historic buildings on the property -- the superintendent's residence and the duplex cottages.

Steiner said in April that he planned to keep the nurses' building and turn it into an inn. He based his decision on findings in the recent assessment, according to Higgins. Higgins said Steiner was very cooperative when he agreed to the assessment.

The April assessment states that it was based on visual observations. The 2012 assessment similarly relies mostly on "secondary evidence" such as rust stains that may indicate corrosion of steel within walls, according to Forrest.

Neighbors of the Seaside property have called for the town to commission a new study by a different firm, out of concern that results of a study commissioned by Steiner might be skewed by his involvement.

Forrest said that, in his experience with SHPO, engineering consultants rarely turn out to be "hired guns," as they sometimes are viewed. He commented that skewing results to fit the needs of a client would greatly harm a firm's reputation.

Still, he said that the town should hire a different firm if it commissions an additional assessment so as to stoke public confidence in the findings.

"There are important decisions to be made in terms of what should happen on that property," he said.

He said that there is nothing wrong with the GZA report and that it could be used as a guide for finding what parts of structures require deeper analysis. He said it is common to use a visual assessment to inform a later, more in-depth, assessment that involves radar testing or lab testing of samples.

The town has expressed interest in state grant funding for a new assessment, Forrest said.

Waterford Planning Director Dennis Goderre wrote in an email Tuesday, "At this time we are not sure if we will be submitting a grant application and what it would fund. I suppose a more in-depth evaluation would be one such option. However, the structural conditions of the buildings are not relevant to the text amendment application."

The text amendment application is a part of Steiner's application to change the zoning regulations of the Seaside Preservation Zoning District. The proposed changes go to a public hearing June 25.

"What is relevant to the current application is ensuring the language within the regulation is appropriate for the Planning and Zoning Commission's evaluation of future reports submitted by the applicant at the time of special permit applications," Goderre continued. He said earlier this month that the structural assessments would become relevant when Steiner submits a site plan application.

Goderre requested the 2012 assessment from Steiner in May but had not received the assessment from Steiner as of last week. The assessment states that the roofs of all four historic buildings and roughly 15 percent of flooring, excluding the basement floor in the main hospital building, should be rebuilt. The report also cites structural problems with walls in the hospital building and superintendent's house.

"This structure should not be occupied and the public should be kept at least 100 feet away from the structure as failure of the load bearing exterior walls may occur suddenly without warning," the assessment states about the superintendent's residence.

Gordon Brookman, a principal at GZA and chief reviewer of the Seaside property in 2012, said report findings expire after about six months. He said the findings that particularly concerned him were cracks in walls, wearing away of mortar and unevenness of roofing. He said he could not recall details about specific buildings.

The April assessment reports minimal roof leaking in the nurses' building and states that the floors are in good condition. It points out some cracking and loss of mortar in exterior walls but concludes their general condition to be good.

Steiner could not be reached to comment this week.

t.townsend@theday.com">t.townsend@theday.com

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(c)2014 The Day (New London, Conn.)

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Source: Day, The (New London, CT)


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