After a hiatus of more than a year, the rehabilitation of Weed Beach may find itself back on an even keel soon.
Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting saw the release of some $18,300 for the revision and completion of architectural plans, a key step towards unlocking funds and soliciting bids from contractors for the halted project.
"What we want to do is complete the documents incorporating the changes we have done," said Parks & Recreation Director Susan Swiatek, referring to a number alterations made to the beach site since the original designs were drawn up. "You don't want to have it [the plans] not clear if you're going to bid the project."
The approval is the latest step in a six-year effort to update the beach's 30-plus-year-old facilities, one that has endured more than its fair share of delays.
"We've been working on this thing for so long that it's mindboggling how much time and effort has already gone into it," said Jane Branigan, chairperson of the Parks & Recreation Commission.
After extensive work from the Weed Beach Building Committee and town employees, a $3.5 million plan was drafted calling for an overhaul of the beach's parking lot, the construction of a nature trail and boardwalk, and the addition, relocation, or renovation of multiple buildings at the site.
The plan was approved by numerous bodies—the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Environmental Protection Commission, the Board of Finance, and the Representative Town Meeting—but the recent economic downturn led the Board of Selectmen in 2009 to put a hold on both the beach project and a planned overhaul of Darien's Police Headquarters.
Monday's release of funds resuscitates the process, allowing planners to fine-tune drawings and specifications necessary for a bid.
"Some of the plans have never been finished and others need revisions," said First Selectman Dave Campbell.
The beach area has changed slightly since the project was approved, most notably with the addition of a $250,000 playground funded by the non-profit Playground on the Sound Committee.
"The site around it was developed in such a way that we could bring in such a project," said Parks & Recreation Director Susan Swiatek.
According to Swiatek, it will take just three to four weeks for the architects and engineers to complete the updates after the relevant contracts are finalized.
"We're very, very close," Swiatek said.
Once the project is shovel-ready, Branigan said the Parks and Recreation Commission plans to seek a release of the funds approved for the construction from the Board of Selectmen.
"We're hoping upon hope that we can start the project probably around the first of October," Branigan said, which would fall after the end of the 2010 beach season but early enough not to impinge on 2011's.
The project is slated for $2 million in bonding and an additional $1.5 million from the town's general fund. Roughly $500,000 had been spent on preliminary work when the project was suspended, according to selectman David Bayne.
"We're actually asking to release the funds that every board has already approved," Swiatek said.
Branigan added that unlocking those funds would likely involve consultation with the Board of Finance, as well.
Getting approval from the Board of Selectmen may not be a walk in the park, however. Though low interest rates could make the necessary bonding more palatable, the project has received a lukewarm reception in the past from Campbell, who once described it as an "expensive luxury."
Until he is able to view the revised documentation, Campbell said, "I'm not ready to release any funding for anything yet."