STONINGTON — Questions have arisen about the potential removal of two buildings on Mystic River Boathouse Park site as well as the initial design of the boathouse to be built on the site.
On Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Stonington High School commons, a presentation of the project followed by public input and discussion has been scheduled by representatives from Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture, who are designing the park, and Friends of Stonington Crew, who are responsible for the boathouse.
The two buildings located on the park site, a house built in 1945 and an adjacent warehouse, are in a historic district and are technically classified as “contributing factors” to the district, said Chad Frost of Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture, who is designing the masterplan for the park.
The buildings’ future will be determined by the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office, which will factor in a number of issues into its decision, Frost said by phone Monday.
“It is a process. We have to come up with a plan for what we think is the correct course of action for the specific site, which takes into consideration the condition of the structures and how they well they could be repurposed for their new uses and things like that,” he said. “We have to go through the process with SHPO. It’s kind of a dialogue back and forth to come to a resolution about what is the best course of action.”
Both structures are contaminated and dilapidated and cannot be reconditioned for the new site use, he said.
In order to ask permission to remove the buildings, a master plan for the site showing what would replace the buildings must be submitted to the state historic office after first receiving public approval.
Reached by phone Friday, First Selectman Rob Simmons said the two buildings “don’t contribute in any meaningful way to a park or to a boathouse in a park.”
“My inclination is if they’re truly historic let’s have somebody buy them and take care of them and protect them or move them to another location, which is perfectly okay by me,” he said. “But, there’s a process that we follow with the state of Connecticut and of course we plan to follow that.”
Recently on social media, a number of residents voiced their disapproval of the boathouse’s modern design and voted on a three sketches of boathouses that reflected New England architecture.
Mike O'Neill, Director of Rowing for the nonprofit Friends of Stonington Crew, whose group chose Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge, Mass., to design the boathouse, said his group is listening to the voices of Stonington residents.
“I think the clear message is that people want to see something more traditional,” he said. “And we hear it loud and clear.”
He said the proposed $2.5 million boathouse, a contemporary two-story structure featuring a perforated building skin pattern reflective of rowers’ stroke movements, was modeled on the Harry Parker Boathouse, designed by Anmahian Winton Architects and located in Brighton, Massachusetts, which is run by Community Rowing Inc., known as CRI.
“Essentially we looked at what they did, at how successful it is and how much accolades it got,” he said. “We were saying if we could replicate that here, how could we do it, what would it look like, what would the structure be and how do we do that in a way that complements the mill, that was the direction we took.”
The boathouse was specifically designed to honor the construction of the Rossie Velvet Mill across the street, he said.
“That’s what drove the building’s form and the height of the boathouse, really everything,” he said.
At the Dec. 1 meeting, Frost said he would advocate strongly for a design that recognizes the history of the mill and 1.2-acre park site was created from the mill’s coal slag.
“The most historic piece from my perspective is that the land is there at all,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the mill, we wouldn’t have a park.”
Frost said the park will have historical signage to educate the public about the history of the whole site.
“We think we can do a much better job of educating the public about the history and importance of the site by doing that rather than by leaving a dilapidated shed that’s falling down in its current condition,” he said.
In terms of the boathouse’s size, Frost said his group worked with the architect to minimize the scale of the building as much as possible.
“The size and the mass the architect is showing is the smallest amount that we’ve been able to get to, it’s the most efficient footprint possible,” he said. “The design and the skin of it is what people have reacted to and that needs to have continued dialogue to get people to understand.”
Frost said the alternative drawings that reflect New England architecture would require a much larger footprint than the present design.
“I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad thing, it’s just a different opportunity,” he said.
He encouraged the public to come to presentation on Dec. 1.
“We want to have a discussion with the entire Stonington public, we want to educate everybody,” he said. “We’re encouraging everyone to come to the forum so we can make educated decision.”