STONINGTON — A new architect will be chosen to design the boathouse for the Mystic River Boathouse Park project after the state Historic Preservation Office requested that a “contributing” structure on the site be saved.
According to Stonington Director of Planning Jason Vincent, the current architect, AW Architecture of Boston, no longer wants to be part of the project because it now involves the adaptive reuse of the historic building, a task that doesn’t suit its strengths.
“We were hoping to build a brand-new building,” Vincent said after the meeting. “That’s what they designed. Now a different type of architecture is involved.””
Mike O’Neill, vice chairman of the committee, said the original architects were planning a gateway building for the town, but that has changed with the preservation of the house.
“It is no longer a good fit for their firm. It’s a simpler task now,” O’Neill said. “It takes a lot of travel time and expense to work on a project like this. They did a great job for us, but things have changed significantly.”
O’Neill said the town would be sending out a Request for Quotation to “see if there is a better firm for the project.”
O’Neill also noted the new direction for the boathouse would satisfy those who feel the project would benefit from a more historical maritime approach.
The site falls within the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District and contains two buildings classified as “contributing resources” to the historic district.
“One was a former blacksmith shed and was not saveable because it was in such poor condition,” O’Neill said. “Our only choice was to consider the house, but it was in the wrong location. There wouldn’t have been grass left over or parking with the house there. (The state historic preservation office) is letting us move the house so we can facilitate a parking lot.
“So the park will still work, but we need to work out all these details,” O’Neill said.
“The Boston firm had a cost-effective plan and a very contemporary building,” O’Neill said.
The committee has also hired an architectural historian to help define the new plan.
In September 2016, voters approved a $2.2 million bond to purchase the 1.5 acre property, and the town purchased it for $1.67 million in January 2017.
The $2.2 million boathouse project is privately funded and will eventually be turned over to the town. The high school rowing team currently uses an old building on the site for oar and crew shell storage and the lawn for outdoor exercise space using rowing machines.
In April 2018, Friends of Stonington Crew chose Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge, Mass., known as AW, to design the boathouse. Chad Frost, principal of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture of Mystic, released a conceptual master plan for the site in June 2018. Frost will remain on the project because the park plan is separate from the boathouse design.
Called the Hart Perry Community Rowing Center, the project was named for Hart Perry, a North Stonington resident regarded as an influential rower and crew coach and advocate. Hart, who passed away in 2011, helped establish many youth rowing programs.The project originally had three goals: to build the boathouse; to create a safe and secure location for the Stonington High School crew and its equipment; and to provide training and rowing programs for the community.
The development of the property required environmental remediation work with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, because the property was designated a brownfield site. Its location along Route 27, a state highway, has also required cooperation with the state Department of Transportation.
In February, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to rezone the Mystic River Boathouse Park property to the Marine Heritage District, a move that will provide increased architectural flexibility in the height and size of future boathouse designs.
The park will be a permanent home for the Stonington High School Crew team and the boathouse constructed there will be used by the team.
The park will also include a boardwalk and a public dock for launching kayaks and canoes and a dock for crew teams and rowers to put in.