New Mystic boathouse design well-received at public meeting

Stonington — When people were asked at the end of a public meeting Saturday if they liked the new design for the boathouse at the Mystic River Boathouse Park, hands went up across the room.

No one later raised their hands when asked if they disliked it.

"I just want to say I was an opponent of the original draft, and you guys did a fantastic job on this building. I'm really excited about it," Matt Beaudoin, who owns the popular Mystic Knotwork shop, said during the meeting, to applause.

“I was one of the few proponents of the first design and so am delighted to sit here today and say that I didn’t ever think I would be as happy with the second as I was with the first," resident Liz Stern said. "I’m very grateful.”

Sketches for the new design for the boathouse, a New England-style structure with a cupola, were unveiled to more than 70 people during a presentation that began at 4 p.m. in the Stonington High School commons.

The process for the boathouse design had started all over again once it became clear that the public didn't like the abstract design, color and contemporary façade of the initial renderings presented last year, said Mike O'Neill, director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew and vice chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee.

The new approach called for better representing "Mystic's Historic Maritime Roots" and matching the building to the "rhythm of the street," according to the presentation. The Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office also said a historic house, which is within the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District had to remain on the property, so the new design had to complement that structure.

The design inspiration for the boathouse comes from the traditional New England house/barn concept, O'Neill said.

"It's a very time-tested design: a house, a connector, a barn," he said. Under the concept, the house serves as an "anchor" for a secondary structure.

According to the presentation, the historical house will be shifted 90 feet to the north to accommodate the boathouse and parking. In an "adaptive reuse" project, the house will be restored and the interior will be turned into changing rooms, offices and restrooms. It then will be connected to the boathouse through a glass hallway that will be the Hart Perry Trophy Room.

The boathouse will contain boat bays, equipment storage and a training area, according to the presentation. The outside of the boathouse largely will be weathered wood, either pine or cedar, to resemble structures along the shoreline, O'Neill said. The goal is to make the boathouse as environmentally friendly as possible.

There also will be an amphitheater that would provide outdoor seating for rowers or could be a place for people to have a picnic when the boathouse isn't in use, he said.

Though the designs are still conceptual, the boathouse is proposed at 48 feet wide, 90 feet long and about 38 feet tall, he said.

The boathouse, connector and the restored house will become the new Stonington Community Rowing Center, said John Thornell of Friends of Stonington Crew. O'Neill said the idea is to provide programs for people of all ages.

The new boathouse design hasn't been priced yet but it is expected to be in the $2.4 million range, O'Neill said. The Friends group is fundraising for the boathouse project.

Prior to the presentation on the boathouse, Chad Frost, principal of Kent + Frost in Mystic, gave a presentation updating the public on the plans for the park.

At least three interpretive signs about the history of the park will be installed, along with lines across the park that will indicate historical shorelines, so people can see exactly where the land was during different time periods in the past, Frost said.

The anticipated schedule for the park calls for multiple permitting steps, and if all goes according to plan, bids would be expected to be finalized between Dec. 2020 and Feb. 2021, and construction would be slated for April 2021-22, according to the presentation.

He said components of the design of the park could serve as a solution to the environmental remediation needed for the site. That would enable the town when seeking brownfield cleanup grants, to ask for the state to pay for many of the improvements to the park as part of the grants. For example, the parking lot could be part of the capping of the site.

According to the presentation, preliminary construction costs for the park are estimated around $3,230,000, with $2,790,000 eligible for remediation grants. That would leave $440,000 for Stonington to cover, and Frost said the town has $435,000 in available town funds and $85,000 in escrow remediation funds.

After the presentation, residents gave their comments and also asked questions, including concerns about the traffic impact, which the committee said would be addressed during the permitting process.

Former First Selectman Rob Simmons and his wife, Heidi, and First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough were recognized for their support of the projects.

k.drelich@theday.com

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