OLD SAYBROOK – Many driving past Main Street on Route 1 have seen the construction of the town’s new Village Gateway Information Center next to Starbuck’s Coffee.
Village Gateway Committee Chairman Jeff Metzendorf said most of the center’s construction has been completed by volunteers who have donated their time, labor, and materials.
“We are calling this an old fashioned barn raising, everyone worked together to get the structure built,” Metzendorf said.
The project started with architectural drawings by Point One Architects while Gribble, Norden, and Champion did an engineering structural analysis.
Surveying of site and staking were performed by Doane Collins Inc. and David Annio while Malone and MacBroom, Inc. served as the landscape architect.
MDC Corporation performed excavation and backfill of the site and worked with the town in clearing the site.
Excavation and foundation work was done by contractor Michael Evangelisti while structural work was done by a large crew brought in by carpenter Doug Eldridge.
Electrical equipment was installed by Sal Ossa from Majewski Electric Company while heating, ventilation, and air conditioning was installed by Tom King from Tem Tech.
Septic system design was performed by Doanne Collins Inc. while Allen Hull from B&L Construction worked on installing a 1,000 gallon tank, field stone, piping, and installation.
Plumbing fixtures were donated by Cunningham Supply and were installed by Joe Appleby from Paterson Plumbing.
Installation of windows donated by the District Otter Cove and a slate roof by Frank DeAngelis from Bradford Roofing should be completed by the end of this month, Metzendorf said, adding the next step would be installation of siding.
The tradition of volunteering is not new, Metzendorf said, as the former 1935 information booth, which was moved to the present-day Dock N’ Dine, served as an airplane lookout station during World War II.
“All up and down the coast, people volunteered their time to man these stations for enemy airplanes,” Metzendorf said.
Although the information center will be new, Metzendorf said, its architecture is similar to the octagon design of the 1935
information booth which originally opened the same year the town commemorated its 300th anniversary.
“It had a cupola, round windows, and we used a lot of those features for this building,” Metzendorf said.
The new cupola gold leaf will be installed by Mike Abel from Essex Sign Carver while the Old Saybrook Girl Scouts donated the weather vane.
The Maynard Family donated an American flag and North Cove Yacht Club donated a set of code flags and storm flags.
While the former information booth was small, Old Saybrook First Selectman Michael Pace has big plans for the new information center.
“This is a town’s facility and its purpose is to serve the town of Old Saybrook,” Pace said, adding it should provide information regarding interests of residents and visitors.
Pace hopes the information center will open in early fall and will attract more to explore the businesses on Main Street.
Selling souvenirs such as postcards, comparing images of the town’s past with its present, is an idea Pace has presented to Old Saybrook High School Principal Scott Schoonmaker.
Pace is hoping the school’s business curriculum could use the center to give students hands-on experience in operating a small business
“If there was any profit, (the school) would keep it,” Pace said.
Such souvenirs hopefully will make residents proud of their town, Pace said, and be good mementos for visitors to bring home to their families and friends.
Working with the town’s artisans in displaying paintings and pottery in the center is another possibility Pace is exploring, adding that Tracy Art Studio has expressed interest.
Having the center act as a temporary home for police personnel is another option Pace is investigating, adding he has spoken with Chief Mosca.
Pace said the police building is expected to be renovated in the near future which could force staff to relocate during construction.
“It fits in because they will be providing information,” Pace said.
After completion, Pace hopes volunteers will staff the center.
“When we did this my intention was to have volunteers and look at civic groups who want to participate, man the visitor center giving out information dealing with the town and the area,” Pace said, “For that, civic groups could use the center for meetings for free but this deal is still on the table.”
On the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce website, a letter written by Executive Director Linanne Lee, states “your board of directors has voted to move to the Village Gateway Building that is currently being constructed.”
While Pace acknowledged the chamber has shown interest in moving into the center, they also have a history of giving inconsistent messages about their interest.
There is no definitive relationship between the chamber and the center, Pace said, who is concerned if the chamber moved in, they would not allow civic groups to use the facility.
Several untrue rumors have circulated including one claiming the center has a basement without any stairs.
“I do believe there are people out there putting out misstatements who have a political agenda. I am quite concerned as the town’s chief elected official and the truth needs to be told,” Pace said.
The center’s basement will have stairs and secondary access to the outside, Pace said, adding the center has a sprinkler system and is fit for occupancy by the building inspector and fire marshal.
It is anticipated the basement will be used as a meeting room for civic groups, Pace said.
Work on the center started in December, Metzendorf said, but the idea started six or seven years ago.
“We first gained access to the property last year. Walker who owns the building housing Starbuck’s and a couple other stores bought the property and in the contract, they leased a portion of the property to Old Saybrook for 99 years,” Metzendorf said.