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Repair work begins at Lachat house

Work is being done to the outside of the Lachat farmhouse. —Kimberly Donnelly photo

After more than a year of worrying about the fate of the Lachat farmhouse, Carol Baldwin is finally breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m still in awe that something is actually happening!” Ms. Baldwin said this week.

What’s happening is construction work to shore up the foundation of the historic farmhouse on the property off Godfrey Road West that is jointly owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy. Plans are still very much “in the works” for what, ultimately, to do with the house and the surrounding land, which was donated to the town and the conservancy by the late Leon Lachat.

But the farmhouse repair work is a necessary and very important first step, Ms. Baldwin said.

The farmhouse had fallen into such disrepair that in the summer of 2011, the Board of Selectmen began discussing the possibility of demolishing the crumbling building, fearing it could pose a public nuisance. A Friends of Lachat group — spearheaded by Ms. Baldwin — formed at that time to raise money to save the farmhouse.

The town agreed to stabilize the farmhouse using a portion of the money raised by the Friends of Lachat.

Repairs are made to the basement of the Lachat farmhouse.

Repairs are made to the basement of the Lachat farmhouse. —Kimberly Donnelly photo

Because of vastly varying bids that came back on the project, it took longer than expected to hire a contractor for the repair work. But in late September, the town hired B&T Builders of Fairfield for $17,800.

The scope of the work, which began just before Thanksgiving and is expected to be done by the end of next week, includes:

• Remove and preserve stepping stones in walkways within the work zone.

• Excavate the outside of the foundation wall on the west side of the house.

• Remove stone from the existing wall to be repaired and re-use the stone for the repair work.

• Shore up and support existing adjoining walls to prevent damage or caving in.

• Rebuild the stone foundation wall to approximate the appearance of the other existing adjoining walls.

• Parge (cover with mortar) and damp-proof the outside of the repaired wall.

• Shore up floor joists, beams, etc., to allow removal of 13 wooden posts in the basement.

• Replace the 13 posts with four-inch metal lally columns resting on concrete footings.

• Replace a window in the foundation wall with a new wood window of similar size and appearance.

• Replace a wood beam in the basement.

Tom Landry, town administrator, said earlier this week he has not received any change orders, so as far as he knows, the project is on budget so far.

Committee

The town formed a Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat Property several months ago. While the town, under the supervision of Mr. Landry and historic preservation architect Robert Hatch, is overseeing the stabilization of the farmhouse, the committee, chaired by Ellen McCormick, has been tasked with coming up with and executing an overall long-range vision and plan for the town’s portion of the Lachat property.

An outside slab is shored up at Lachat.

An outside slab is shored up at Lachat. —Kimberly Donnelly photo

A dual lease agreement entered into last year with the Nature Conservancy gives the town control over what is done with the portion of the farm fronting on Godfrey Road — including the buildings — and the conservancy is responsible for land that abuts the Devil’s Den Nature Preserve.

Ms. Baldwin, also a member of the committee, said she and the other committee members are thrilled the repair work has begun, and are pleased with the work of Mr. Hatch, who is also helping the committee craft its plans for the future use of the building.

Mr. Hatch “has worked on historic restoration projects all over the country,” Ms. Baldwin said. “The project is in good hands. I’m really pleased he’s involved with this.”

However, Ms. Baldwin said she is worried the public will see the construction work being done at Lachat now and think the committee has already come up with a plan for the farmhouse.

“These are just repairs,” she said. The oversight committee still has a lot of work to do, and the Friends of Lachat would still like to raise at least $80,000 more, she added.

People may find out more about donating to the project at friendsoflachat.org.

The committee has raised about $100,000 thus far in donations and pledges, and the town has committed to contributing some of the earnings from an endowment fund that’s in place for Lachat’s upkeep, Ms. Baldwin said.

In addition, the Friends of Lachat has secured a $20,000 matching Historic Preservation Technical Assistance Grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. Private donations to the Friends provided the matching funds necessary to receive the grant.

The grant does not cover the repair work being done now. It is to be used for paying an architect (Mr. Hatch — who also has been doing some pro bono work on the project), a structural engineer (Richard Marneke), and an historic landscape planner (Silvia Erskine).

The oversight committee is busy trying to make grant deadlines for landscape architecture plans. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein and members of the oversight committee went before the Planning and Zoning Commission last Monday, Nov. 19, to ask for guidance on parking requirements in advance of drawing up those plans.

However, Ms. Weinstein said, P&Z was unable to determine how much parking would be needed until it sees a completed plan for the use of the building and surrounding grounds.

P&Z will eventually need to issue an 8-24 approval for changing the use of a town property. Ms. Weinstein said the town will likely go to P&Z more than once.

“We may need to do an 8-24 for the house and immediate surrounding area, and then another” if the committee decides to move forward with something like a community garden or a working farm, Ms. Weinstein said.

Right now, all ideas are still on the table, Ms. Baldwin said. But the committee hopes to come up with an initial plan sometime in December, which it can present to the Board of Selectmen in January.

Ms. Weinstein said after being presented with a plan from the committee, the Board of Selectmen would hold at least one public information session to receive input from the public before the board votes on a plan to present to P&Z for an 8-24.

Then P&Z would hold a public hearing before it votes on the plan.

“There are lots of opportunities for the public to weigh in on this” before any decisions are made, Ms. Weinstein said.

Ms. Baldwin encouraged anyone interested to attend any of the oversight committee meetings, all of which are open to the public, and to visit friendsoflachat.org for more information on the property and how to become involved in its future.

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