UPDATE: Greenwich Athletic Foundation Withdraws its Referral to RTM for the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center MI

Updated Jan 18, 2021: The GAF submitted a letter to the town clerk signed by Executive Board members Robert Burton, Randy Caravella, Richard Fulton, Mike Jedlicka, Rick Kral, Abbe Large and Liz Tommasino saying their requested to withdraw the referral of the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center to the Representative Town Meeting for further consideration.

Original Story, Jan 12, 2021: Monday night there was a joint meeting off four RTM committees – Finance, Land Use, Legislative & Rules and Public Works – on a referral of the Municipal Improvement for the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center (EGCC) by the Greenwich Athletic Foundation (GAF).

Rick Kral from GAF spoke for 10 minutes. He was referred to as the “opponent,” but said that was not the case, and that the GAF fully supported a new EGCC.

However, he said there had not been adequate opportunity for public comment, and that there was potential to do a lot more with the project.

Kral noted that many residents and sports teams head to Chelsea Piers in Stamford to use their vast indoor turf fields, and that the GAF would like an indoor field house to be added to the EGCC project.

Parks & Rec board member Scott Johnson, co-chair of the 9-member EGCC committee created in July 2018, said the project was being run by the committee, not Dept of Public Works or the Parks & Rec Dept.

The committee included P&Z director Katie DeLuca, BET member Karen Fassuliotis, 4 people from Parks & Rec, and Liz Peldunas from the Riverside Association.

Mr. Johnson said four members of the group had been involved with the project, serving on previous committees up to 15 years ago, and noted two prior committees’ efforts had failed.

“It didn’t get town support. It didn’t get BET support. It was a project that was larger, and not dissimilar from what the opponents want now,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that the current committee’s first assignment was to organize a professional survey.

The survey had 2,500 respondents, and generated a 150 page report prioritizing the amenities community wanted in a civic center.

1 event rooms
2 indoor fitness and wellness
3 playgrounds
4 indoor pool
5 meeting rooms / lounge areas
6 gymnasium
7 outdoor tennis
8 indoor ice rink

“What it did not have, despite what the opponents represented, is any mention of a field house,” Mr. Johnson continued, adding that the GAF had cited a survey done by OGRCC recommending a larger facility with a field house.

“They wanted a 60,000 sq ft facility,” he said. (The proposed facility is 37,000 sq ft and the existing one is 31,000 sq ft).

“All you have to do is go over to Chelsea Piers and see how their fields that are netted off and are only half-fields, and how busy they are at practice times, to see the need that exists in our community.”

– Rick Kral, Greenwich Athletic Foundation

Mr. Johnson said that after numerous public hearings, 15 architects were provided “replacement goals” to study, including the existing amenities, as well as a potential second floor, field house, running track, and swimming pool. He said most of those amenities were rejected due to practicality, budget, and design feasibility.

He said in addition to the building itself, the playing fields were very busy and contribute to demand on the existing parking lot. He noted that children and participants have to cross Harding Road to access the fields and civic center.

Mr. Johnson explained that in addition to a gymnasium, the proposed building includes a multi-purpose event space that is intended for both events and recreation, as it has a multi-purpose surface.

“It is not astro-turf intentionally,” Mr. Johnson said.

Rick Kral, who is co-president of the Greenwich Athletic Foundation (GAF) with Rob Burton, said his organization had funded numerous projects in town including shoring up the bleachers at GHS Cardinal Stadium, new scoreboard and sound system there, projects at Hamill Rink, and new bleachers in the GHS gymnasium.

“We have been involved and supported the new EGCC,” he said, adding that their executive committee member Randy Caravella had attended numerous meetings and reported back to the GAF.

Kral acknowledged and praised the EGCC committee’s hard work, but said he did not believe the community at large was aware of a the civic center or other projects in the works, including Dorothy Hamill Rink and the swimming pool at GHS.

There was disagreement over when the most recent public hearing for input on the civic center took place. The EGCC committee said it was in 2020 and the GAF placed it closer to 2018.

“Our POCD identifies the lack of playing fields and playing surfaces in the Town of Greenwich as a top priority,” Mr. Kral said, adding that over use of town fields had taken a toll.

“It’s more concerning with the advent of later start times for high school and school programs, which has made after school use of the fields during peak hours very difficult,” he added. “Especially for a residential community that prides itself on attracting young communities and looking to build its tax base.”

Kral said the OGRCC survey defined the field house as a top priority for their use.

“Hence the demand at Chelsea Piers at prime times,” he said, adding that private schools in back country also lease their indoor turf areas to programs in the community.

“That need is definitely there,” Kral said. “The concept of the GAF was to build off the hard work and efforts of the EGCC committee.”

Kral said he believed an indoor field house turf area with walking/running track could easily be melded into the proposed design.

“I don’t believe at this time the town could afford to really miss an opportunity to incorporate a use that would be so important to the community, and solve some of the community needs,” Kral said.

Town attorney Aamina Ahmad, explained that the RTM could not modify or place conditions on the MI, but rather accept or reject it as proposed.

“In essence the project is back at square one as it if had never happened?” Mr. Del’Abate asked.

“Yes,” Ahmad responded.

“If the MI that was approved does not go forward through the RTM it would have to start back with the Board of Selectmen,” said Katie DeLuca, P&Z director.

Proposed front of a new Eastern Greenwich Civic Center. The facility has a challenge in that the parking area is across a busy street that children and participants cross.
Facility viewed from the fields, the facility features a lot of glass, but it is certified, impact resistant, and is an energy factor.
An event space is not necessarily for parties. It’s for recreation and events, but is also capable of recreation as it has a multi-purpose surface. “It is not astro-turf intentionally,” Mr. Johnson said.

Susan Foster, a resident of Old Greenwich, said there had been ample time for public input.

“Rick (Kral), I appreciate the great work your organization has done, but I humbly say that tonight what you’re doing is a misplaced effort of your effort and enthusiasm for advancing sports in our town.”

She argued the survey made it clear the community wanted a civic center and not an athletic facility, given limited resources.

“The public weighed in. The public had ample opportunity,” she added. “This feels like a last minute situation of pulling the rug out from getting the civic center built that we need so desperately.”

Mr. Kral agreed with Ms Foster that the project was important, but went on to say the final iteration of the project had not been presented to the public.

“I believe that as many people you feel support the project as is, there are those that don’t or feel that more could be done,” Kral said.

Karen Fassuliotis, a BET member who was on the EGCC committee, said 25 public meetings had been held, and the last one was in June 2020.

“This facility – multi purpose and multi generational – the POCD also mentions that we want to be age age-friendly town,” she said.

Fassuliotis said the project dated back to 1999, when a rehabilitation of the building was considered but deemed impractical.

She said that in 2010 the project had a budget of $10 million.

“In 2017-18 the budget went to $12 million. In 2020, it was $15 million and now for 21-22 it’s budget for $17 million,” Fassuliotis continued, adding that there was about $85 million of capital projects in the queue, and if the EGCC MI was not approved, the project would go to the end of the queue.

Mr. Del’Abate said he was not surprised that the OGRCC’s survey indicated the desire for a field house.

“They are completely all sports people,” he said. “But we’re not here to solve the problems of the OGRCC. We were commissioned to make a civic center, not a sports facility. We’re working within the budget confines we were given by the BET.”

Del’Abate said the committee had not seen Mr. Caravella at any meeting.

“Nor has the GAF ever asked for a seat at the table. We were blindsided when you showed up in October,” he added.

Committee member Liz Peldunas, who leads the Riverside Association, recalled how the SFA survey results indicated a 14,000 sq ft artificial turf field would not be adequate for anything but practice.

She said to put in a “too small” field house would be a mistake.

Nancy Cooper, a Riverside resident, said the community had understood there would be trade-offs.

“I don’t think at this point it’s appropriate to send this back to the drawing board,” she said.

Randy Caravella from the Greenwich Athletic Foundation, said he took umbrage at the suggestion that the GAF was late to the game.

“We came, we talked, we spoke. We talked about enlarging the civic center project. We talked about a field house and an ice rink,” he said. “The committee refuted them and did not include them in their plans.”

“The survey showed (that) they were wanted. The OGRCC survey and the SFA survey showed they were wanted,” Caravella continued. “I was there for 3 years. We left because you wouldn’t listen to what we wanted to say. You may have heard us, but you didn’t listen.”

“It’s a shame that we’re going to get a half a facility. A 14,000 sq ft facility is plenty big enough for practice. They have nowhere to go. You disregard the fields. It’s an embarrassment and you all should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Randy Caravella – GAF

Mr. Del’Abate said Mr. Caravella had not been part of the current committee or attending meetings.

In closing remarks, Mr. Kral, a former 10 year member of the RTM, repeated that he had only praise for the committee’s work, but that FAR was available for a field house and that he didn’t believe the process had gone far enough.

Kral disagreed that considering a field house would set the project back to “ground zero.”

“We’ve had a land use professional present a site plan as an alternative,” he said. “We’re not coming here empty handed just throwing grenades at a project.”

Krall noted that with a 96,000 sq ft FAR permitted for the site, that a 37,000 sq ft facility left a lot of room for development.

Brian Raney asked Mr. Kral whether the GAF would offer funding for a field house.

Mr. Kral said during a GAF executive board meeting there was discussion favorable to raising funds, but they did not have enough information to vote on a dollar amount.

“We would to have get further information on something as simple as naming rights,” he said.

Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano said a field house was not one of the top 9 amenities in SFA community survey.

“If we go back to talk to the architects, we have to engage with them in a different type of contract,” Siciliano said. “This is not currently in their scope of work.”

“The longer we delay – next year it will be another million (dollars) or two, I think we should vote,” said Land Use committee member Ellen Brennan-Galvin.

Land Use chair Peter Berg said he had been hearing talk of an indoor field for years, but that the survey did not indicate it was a high priority.

Mr. Johnson said the extra sq footage would add at least $10 million to the project, and require an additional 70 parking spaces.

Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano agreed.

“In order to built a 14,000 sq ft space we’d have to come up with additional parking spaces on the property somewhere, which means we’d have to take some green space on the field.”

The RTM Land Use committee took a vote, 12-0-0 in favor of the MI.

The RTM Parks and Recreation committee voted 11-0 in favor of EGCC MI and the GAF withdrew their referral.

The BOC voted in favor of the MI 11-0-1 (D6 abstained)

See also:

Many Voices Heard at Eastern Greenwich Civic Center Hearing for Input

June 13, 2019

Eastern Greenwich Civic Center Committee Resonses to GAF

The Eastern Greenwich Civic Center Committee would like to address some of the comments made by GAF at the hearings and, particularly, in their submitted materials.

  • The architectural plans for the Project were available for review and comment at least 6 months prior to MI approval by the Board of Selectman and 10 months prior to submission to the Planning and Zoning Commission.  They were displayed at all of our public hearings and were available online.
  • At no time during our 25 public hearings was there any representative of GAF who made a comment or presented any alternative plan or proposal.
  • An interest in an additional 14,000 sq ft. field house and 2nd floor with 2nd floor running track was reviewed as a potential option with prior committees as far back as 10 years.  These ideas were carefully analyzed by consultants SFA, Project Architects, engineers and Committee Members and rejected as impractical and beyond realistic budgets.
  • A rejection of the MI will vacate the unanimous approvals of the Board of Selectman and all the Land Use Agencies.  It will require a complete redesign of the building plans, site plan, parking, drainage plan, interiors, exteriors and mechanicals.  This is because the existing design for a 35,000 sq ft. building needs to be replaced with a very different 50,000+ sq ft. building with an entirely different roofline, elevations, floor plan and site plan.  The $350,000 spent to date on architecturals will be, in large part, wasted and a similar amount will need to be approved by BET in order to start all over again.  This is not a minor attachment of a box to the building.
  • GAF indicated that new plans could be modified and resubmitted in one month.  This is incorrect.  DPW advises that the entire plan package will have to be refunded by BET and then redrafted by architects and engineers.  That can easily take 6 months, and longer if you factor in required public hearings.
  • Because of the apparent size and scope of the requested changes, DPW estimates that the costs may well exceed an additional $10M.
  • BET will need to be specifically reconvened to approve the overall Project budget going from $16M to $26M.  They will also modify the present CIP allocation and queue listed for the present and next fiscal years.  Any increase in the previous CIP approvals have been rejected during our constant and regular updates with BET.
  • To stop the project at this point is perilous.  It has no BET approval, no design, no Planning & Zoning approval, is not consistent with the requirements for a multi-generational community center and is entering a completely unknown and more challenging financial cycle.  Even to delay it for reconsideration is impractical because the same obstacles remain.
  • Appeals of any MI project which has had unanimous approvals and a long history of thoughtful community feedback should only be considered in extraordinary circumstances.  To reward an appellant who has not attended any of our proceedings and to nullify the 3 years of productive work is extremely inappropriate.  How can you expect us to change a Project for someone who never proposed an alternative plan until last week?  GAF is simply uninformed about the overwhelming support for the Project and is operating only from a small self-interested perspective.
  • There are productive and realistic alternatives.  The $10M+ requested for this enlargement  could better be allocated to other requested and recommended CIP projects, including the new hockey rink, redevelopment and turfing of middle schools and other fields identified in the Parks & Recreation master plans.
  • If the opponent’s proposal is approved, the additional $10M will inevitably be withdrawn from these other projects.  Other less expensive alternatives also include covering the Cos Cob Power Plant field, adding additional turf fields at Eastern Greenwich Civic Center and approving the proposed new hockey rink which will include a 20,000 sq. ft. climate controlled indoor turf field during the off-season.
  • Eastern Greenwich Civic Center has been actively proceeding with fundraising and, after several meetings, has received encouraging indications for a sizable contribution from a private foundation.  The current volatility of the donor-based climate can throw that very encouraging potential into question.  Gifting from local stakeholders has not been productive.  GAF has never proposed any contributions.
  • The current Project doubles the size of recreational areas and significantly increases event space and multi-purpose activity room with a state-of-the-art efficient building.  This Project cannot be categorized as simply replacing the same facility.
  • Be mindful of our current schedule.  DPW is back before BET on February 5, 2021 to reconfirm the CIP budget.  If the current Project continues on track, final numbers can be confirmed and construction can commence in the next fiscal year.
  • It is far too risky to reject this MI and to have the entire process and its attendant unknowns start all over for the fourth time and after 20 years of similar project proposal failures.

Respectively submitted,
Eastern Greenwich Civic Center Commission