Town hall’s elms are going — soon
The tall green sentinels that have stood guard on either side of town hall will soon end their decades of silent duty, shading sidewalks and benches, anchoring the wires that suspend the great American flag before the building’s front entrance, adding leaves and green to a corner dominated by pavement and brick.
The two big trees will be taken down soon — within a month.
“We signed contracts last week. They’ll be coming down roughly the third week of July,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Monday, June 25.
“This has been planned for several years now, due to their failing condition,” he said.
“This past year we had them pruned once again, with several major branches being removed, that had died.
“Because of our municipality status, and ownership of the trees, and that we have established the fact that the trees are in poor condition, and given the number of pedestrians in and around the area, it is the safest thing to be done — rather than waiting for someone to potentially be harmed, We do not want that,” Marconi said.
“So, the removal of the trees is an important step to be taken, unfortunately.”
Where will the flag hang?
Taking down the tree leaves the giant American flag that hangs over town hall’s entrance without something tall enough, and strong enough, to hold it up.
“We will be working on supporting the hanging of the flag in a different manner,” Marconi said.
There is one bit of good news concerning town hall’s look.
“In the beginning of July, we will have the widow’s walk being replaced,” Marconi said. “That was part of the original building, built in 1896 after the Great Fire.
“That project is being completed by a group of volunteers and a generous donor.”
The widow’s walk project was proposed in 2016 by builder Mike Wise, who’d done work including a widow’s walk restoration on the Lounsbury House. Architect Dave Scott did drawings for the project, based on old photographs.
“When town hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire it was the center of civic pride and the widow's walk railing was the building's crown,” Scott told The Press at the time. “Town hall certainly looked better with it than without.”
Tree Warden John Pinchbeck told The Press in May that a resistograph test for rotten wood had found one of the two elms had a failure of about 20% on the side facing town hall.
“They don’t look good,” he said.
Pinchbeck figures the two trees — which he identified as Siberian elms — were planted around the 1930s. Today’s brick town hall was built in 1896-97 after the previous wooden town hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1895, which took a number of Main Street buildings.
A postcard that Jack Sanders’ website Ridgefieldhistory.com dates to about 1907 shows the corner of Main Street and Bailey Avenue without the trees there — or the brick walls in front of town hall.
In the May interview, Pinchbeck said the elms probably shouldn’t have been planted where they were.
“The root zone is too small for the trees,” he said. “You can tell because they’re pushing against the wall and the sidewalks.”
“Once the trees are removed, a project for which we have received state funding will commence to redo the landscaped area in front of town hall, to be rebuilt exactly the way it is today,” Marconi said. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to replace the trees exactly as they are today.
“The stumps will be removed, and new trees planted toward of the end of the project.”
The project will correct drainage problems.
“Excavation will take place down to the footings in front of town hall, to correct a water problem that we have had for years,” Marconi said.
“The foundation will be waterproofed, and new footing drains put in to handle the water...
“We repair the front steps every year, due to the poor drainage. It’s been a safety hazard. We need to fix the front steps, put in new footing drainage, around the building, for all the leader drains. The front wall around town hall is tilting away from the tree, because the root system expanded. We need to fix that — and, of course, the sidewalk.”
How much will all this cost?
“I think it’s approximately $175,000,” Marconi said.
“It’s not a mammoth project, but it’s probably a more sensitive project because of the trees.”
The big trees are scheduled to come down in the mid to late July, and the drainage project expected to take three to five weeks.
“So, new trees will be planted late August, early September,” Marconi said.
What kind of trees?
“That will be a recommendation of the tree committee,” Marconi said.
The goal will be have substantial replacements.
“The type of tree will be from the tree committee, but they’ll be as large a caliper tree as can possibly be installed,” Marconi said.
Whatever the size of the new trees, they’re not going to be able to support the huge flag that now hangs in front of town hall — traditionally from Memorial Day through Flag Day and the Fourth of July,
“We know for sure we will not be able to hang the large flag as it hangs today,” Marconi said.
So that’s another thing to continue looking into.
“Look how high that flag is is hanging — it’s higher than our roof. There are two wires there; the first one was the original, and the flag was too close to the building and often in windy weather would rub against various sections of the building, ripping the flag,” he said,
“Not to mention when the rain soaks the flag, the weight is incredible and it stretched to the ground and we had to move it higher and away from the building. People may remember having to duck when leaving town hall, when the flag was stretched and wet you’d have to duck to get under it.”
How to hang the flag is a problem Marconi’s been thinking about — but it isn’t an easy one to solve.
“All of the facia board, all the dentil molding, is metal — perhaps we can improvise some kind of plate that gets bolted to the building, with a couple of columns or extensions off of the plate that will allow us to hang the flag that way.”
Marconi knows people will be upset at taking down the trees — something he’s been talking about on and off for a couple of years. With the trees deteriorating condition and the high pedestrian traffic in the area, he argues that the unhappy day can’t be put off forever.
“We have no choice,” Marconi said. “What are we going to do, wait for something to, unfortunately, happen? And then it will be: ‘Why didn’t you do something?’”