When the boys were both born, we were the proud owners of a small, yellow Cape on a quiet road near Fairfield University. We bought the house when we got engaged...choosing this large yet welcoming town because I was working in Hartford, my husband in Manhattan.
Once I became a mom, the area's beaches became really important to me...a place to go for a change of pace when non-stop diapers and feeding sessions became to much. A place to breathe in the fresh air and see friendly faces when I was feeling lonely and pent-up at home. A place that now holds so many dear memories....Sam wandering throughout the vibrant kayaks, learning his colors...Ben in his baby carrier, probably 5 days old, seeing the ocean for the first time, snoozing with the fall sun on his face.
Of course, I heard about the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to my former home....but, I really didn't realize the long-term consequences of this epic storm...until just recently.
I was on a story in Fairfield County a few weeks ago and we had a little time to kill before arriving at our shoot. "Let's take a drive down the beach road," I said nonchalantly, not expecting what I would see.
Houses I remember...with big orange Xs on them...a sign that complete demolition is the only option. Property after property sporting burnt-out, orange Arbor Vitae trees, the result of the salty sea spray against once lush landscaping.
But, most shocking of all, is the state of the Penfield Beach Pavilion. I was so thrilled to hear - just a few years ago - that the old pavilion was being re-built on this great stretch of shoreline. Now, about 24 months after it's grand opening, the new, large building is completely closed, surrounded by wire fencing and dotted with orange paint after suffering severe structural damage from Sandy's wrath.
"We are working on a plan to restore it," Director of Public Works Joe Michelangelo tells me, noting that the off-kilter Pavilion isn't completely totaled but that it will be uninhabitable for the rest of this summer. Michelangelo had just started his job when Sandy hit. He says the damage to this important building - which cost 5 million dollars of taxpayer money to build in 5 years - is a real blow to the community: "The Fairfield beaches and this building were just the crown jewel."
The Pavilion will have to be placed at a higher elevation to fulfill FEMA's new, post-Sandy standards. "We don't want to go down this road again," says Michelangelo. The options, which are being presented to the Board of Selectmen and the Parks & Recreation Committee next week, are to raise the building about five feet in it's existing spot or shift the structure back into the parking lot which Michelangelo believes might create more flexibility with re-construction.
After five years and five million dollars, I ask Michelangelo if folks in town have any regrets. Should the new building have been built better? Or, was there no way to predict Sandy's devastation?
Michelangelo says, he's not sure...but he is looking into all those questions. Town leaders are asking: why did this happen? Can we seek damages? Is there any legal recourse? They will continue to pursue these issues until they get answers. For now, Michelangelo believes insurance money will cover the cost of repairs which will include iron and concrete pilings on the under-side of the structure.
Calls and emails to architect George Wiles were not answered.
The beach - an incredibly popular spot for families - remains open and usable, sporting a set-up of temporary bathrooms.
Michelangelo hopes the Pavilion will be open a year from now, primed and ready to host functions in the rental rooms. He can't wait until this structure, once again, becomes the back-drop for many more family memories: "I don't think the town will want to go through another summer without that pavilion."