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CT Construction Digest Friday January 21, 2022

New Haven to get $223 million to protect Long Wharf, deepen harbor

Ed Stannard

NEW HAVEN — The city will receive federal money for two large projects in and around New Haven Harbor, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, announced.

The largest amount, $160.3 million, will help to protect Long Wharf from flooding because of large storms and climate change. The city also will receive $63 million to complete the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge and widen the harbor’s shipping channel to make it more navigable by large ships.

Mayor Justin Elicker said both projects require “a lot of planning and work” and “one of the reasons we were successful is because New Haven was already planning to respond to sea level rise and coastal events and was ready when the funding became available.”

The Long Wharf protection plan is “a resilience project,” city Engineer Giovanni Zinn said. The project will “protect the assets in the Long Wharf, the highway and the rail yard. I-95 and the Northeast Corridor are of national importance and I think this is a recognition on the part of the Army Corps and the federal government of their importance.”

Interstate 95 is the primary barrier to flooding from the harbor, but the project will add a flood wall from the nature preserve in the southwest to beyond the Canal Dock Boathouse. There also will be five floodgates at the three I-95 underpasses and the exit and entrance ramps, Zinn said. The project also adds a pump station “to deal with any water that gets behind the wall.”

“If you have an event where you have a storm surge in the harbor, the rain can’t get out because it’s a gravity system” and the water level in the harbor is too high, Zinn said. Long Wharf can see storm surges of 10 to 12 feet, he said.

“Over the last decade, the catastrophic flooding in Connecticut’s coastal areas have upended lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and completely reshaped the shoreline,” DeLauro, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a release.

“There is very little we can do to prevent natural disasters from occurring, but we can — and must — be proactive about preparing for them and minimizing the damage,” she said. She said the project will create construction jobs and save on cleanup costs and losses from water damage.

The New Haven Harbor project will deepen the channel 5 feet to a total of 40 feet, and widen the channel and turning basin so larger ships can dock at the New Haven Terminal without having to lighten their load outside the breakwater.

The channel is 500 feet wide in the outer harbor, 400 feet wide in the inner harbor and 800 feet wide along the terminals, according to the Army Corps. “The dredge material is going to be used to create a tidal marsh of the West Haven coast. There will be environmental benefits to that,” Elicker said.

The Army Corps proposal included using the dredge material to fill a “borrow pit” off the city’s East Shore that was created when fill was needed to build I-95 in the 1950s, as well as one near the West River.

“This federal funding is a game-changer,” DeLauro said in a release. “This project will increase the navigation efficiency and safety of the New Haven Harbor. It will create good-paying jobs for longshoremen, truck drivers, warehousemen and construction workers and strengthen Connecticut’s supply chain.”

Offshore wind leadership is Connecticut’s to lose

The Day Editorial Board  

It has been nearly three years since Governor Lamont announced the signing of a public-private partnership to bring the wind power industry to Connecticut and, a month later, signed a law he said was designed to make Connecticut "the central hub of the offshore wind industry in New England."

Despite having a deepwater port uniquely suited to shipping assembled wind turbine components to sites off the East Coast and a manufacturing and technology capacity known worldwide, Connecticut is not yet poised to become a wind power hub in a $170 billion industry.

Rather, the state remains in the formulation stage, probably better versed in its own assets and weaknesses than before but unready to assume leadership in a new and critical industry. Good groundwork is being done, but the excitement is missing.

Time is passing as wind power developers face their own contractual deadlines and as Connecticut residents wonder what happened to the buzz about offshore wind — if they even remember that in pre-pandemic 2019 there was one.

At this point, Connecticut has not blown its opportunity. Two separate initiatives based in southeastern Connecticut have recently emerged. One, a set of six projects and five partners called the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster, is in competition for possible federal funding of $25 million to $100 million. SeCTer, the southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, is leading the effort with the help of a federal planning grant of $500,000 and staff assistance from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The cluster's focus, although ultimately statewide, comes from local leadership — UConn Avery Point, Norwich Community Development Corp., Eastern Connecticut Workforce Board and Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, plus the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. Their goal is a transformative economic development plan that can compete in a national challenge grant. There is plenty to be excited about there.

Also promising is a study commissioned by the partners in the Revolution Wind project, Ørsted and Eversource, and shepherded by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, "Embracing the Potential of Offshore Wind in Connecticut." Its authors, from the McAllister Marine Engineering firm, have experience in the international industry. Their report outlines the impressive strengths that mean prominence in the engineering, manufacturing and delivery of components is Connecticut's to lose. Foremost is the single most suitable deepwater port free of downstream obstacles, New London.

One group is working from local expertise and looking at the recommendations of the other, which derive from international experience. The essential third leg is for Connecticut government to assume a more vocal and visible presence. Not only do manufacturers, engineering and technical schools, business innovators and developers need to know where they fit into the state's plans, the public also needs a sense of the synergy of wind power with this compact, high-tech, coastal state.

It is hard to think of a category of components in which Connecticut could not contribute to the vessels, logistics, ports and harbors that are part of the second and third tiers of construction and assembly of the giant turbines. Think of the sophisticated expertise beyond the partners in the grant application cluster — including the U.S. Navy, Electric Boat, aircraft manufacturers and Millstone Power Plant owner Dominion, which is making its own major investment with construction of a newly designed turbine installation vessel. Big business and big government are aboard. State Pier has its permits at last. But an industry that aims to be as comprehensive as this one also needs the small, medium, minority, and one-of-a-kind skills and companies. It needs the tech know-how tailored to custom, durable design in a harsh environment.

If successfully launched, Connecticut's wind power manufacturing industry will be a source of civic pride comparable to that of aeronautics and submarine design.

What is most worrisome about the state's preparation for offshore wind is not its hiccups, like the controversies around State Pier, but that it is so quiet that economic experts ignore it. In a December virtual economic forum held by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, some of the state's most-quoted economists painted a picture of Connecticut's economy as "lackluster."

The fact that no one at a statewide forum was talking about a whole new industry that could be revving up here by 2024, could re-tool the state's manufacturing presence, enhance its educational institutions and jobs market and contribute to cleaner air is baffling. Maybe it's Covid fatigue, or maybe the Lamont preference for working behind the scenes is putting a lid on the sort of buzz that generates support and keeps a project moving. In three years, progress has been made, and both the industry and the public need to see what Connecticut will do.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

3 trends impacting construction's labor outlook in 2022

Zachary Phillips

For construction, a "Help Wanted" sign is familiar, as the demand for new workers has continued to outpace the supply.

The industry has faced a compounding labor shortage for decades, and, in 2022, a perfect storm of swirling factors could both aid and exacerbate the issue.

For most of 2021, jobs were stagnant in construction, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction began the year with roughly 7.4 million jobs, seasonally adjusted, and the last report of the year indicated 7.5 million jobs in November. That’s the closest construction's employment numbers have been to prepandemic numbers since March 2020, when the industry employed 7.6 million workers.

From a huge influx in public spending, to debates over vaccines and continued social changes, here are the top trends impacting construction labor in 2022.

Recruitment takes on new importance

In the past few years, companies nationwide have seen rapid cultural changes, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities. Construction has gotten in on that trend, with programs and incentives aimed at attracting new workers to the industry, regardless of their gender or cultural background.

That may not always be the impression those outside the industry see, however.

"The days of the rough and gruff contractor, that ship has sailed," said Tim Keating, president of R.C. Stevens Construction in Winter Garden, Florida. "I'm an old guy. But I changed my way, and I'm the head cheerleader."

Keating said he has tried to make cultural shifts within his company, emphasizing that in order to make workers feel welcome and valued — which is key to retaining them — employers must "walk the talk," meaning engaging with workers and generating a welcoming culture at the jobsite.

For Stephanie Schmidt, president of Poole Anderson Construction in State College, Pennsylvania, retaining the workers she has is her biggest goal for 2022. She has already raised pay rates and looked into new benefit packages and paid time off. But, at the end of the day, it's always about attitude and culture.

"Somebody will always pay a buck more to get somebody," Schmidt said, "but we really need to get them ingrained in our culture by providing them with good work, steady work and knowing that they have a future."

Developing a career development plan for every worker they take on has allowed Poole Anderson to provide them with a clear career path for the future, while focusing on attitude and ability.

Keating said it is always about attitude, as it's possible to teach anyone you can recruit how to build. The real value comes from the soft skills — which 92% of talent experts say is vital to retention. 

Even still, more will need to be done to attract women and minorities, Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors told Construction Dive. 

"I think it's going to be essential for construction firms to continue to broaden those [cultural recruitment] efforts," he said.

With slow population growth, the industry won't be able to count on the same pool of workers, Simonson said, which means firms will need to reach out to even more women and minorities. 

Construction also faces an uphill battle with location, as often the jobsite may be far from home. Distance may cause workers to sit on the sideline, or find more stable work — even if it pays less — closer to home.

Carla Kugler, president and CEO of ABC New Mexico, says their members are doing more to support workers' families, especially for those with jobsites that keep them away for extended periods of time. From ensuring workers can return home, providing child care and creating family day — where relatives of workers can visit — on jobsites, Kugler said, the industry recognizes the daily sacrifice workers make.

Infrastructure work will impact private jobs

President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November, spurring a once-in-a-generation influx of $1.2 trillion in new spending — $550 billion of which was earmarked for infrastructure itself.

The funds mean more work for civil contractors, which builders and groups have pushed for for years. But the new work will not come without its challenges.

The industry, which was already in dire need of workers, will now see an increase in demand for jobs across more work sites. As a result, wages are likely to increase for skilled workers who will have more options, and the demand-supply ratio could worsen.

The issue will not just make things harder for civil builders, however. As some workers move to where the money is, private contractors may see more challenges in staffing jobsites. Those challenges could lead to entire projects being put on hold, or even not taking off.

"I'm concerned that the private developer or the private person that wants something built will say, 'I can't get people, there's no reason for me to build it now,' and that's going to kind of put a stranglehold on that faucet," Keating said.

As long as public projects are taking off, private projects will take a backseat, Keating said. The wages will simply be higher for those public projects, and therefore private work will be "squeezed."

Despite new challenges the IIJA will no doubt impose, Simonson said the influx of work will certainly be a net positive, and improve the quality of life in the U.S. 

"It's a huge positive for construction both in a steady extreme of projects and signaling to those people that this is a field that we see a lot of money coming for a long time," Simonson said.

The increase in public work could also help the industry continue to improve employment practices. By having a light pipeline of workers entering the workforce now, contractors face a challenge, but one that will present them with the opportunity to identify what employees want, Todd Lofgren, executive vice president and general manager for Skanska USA said in an email to Construction Dive. 

The demand for workers could help with the social push to improve those conditions for workers.

With more public work, however, the industry may continue to see a duel over COVID-19 vaccinations.

Vaccine mandates will continue to cause confusion, conflict

"It has become almost impossible for contractors to navigate the quagmire of regulations governing COVID-19 and vaccines," Trent Cotney, CEO of Cotney Attorneys and Consultants, told Construction Dive in early December. "The uncertainty has left many contractors to do little or nothing in the form of preparation because it is unclear what current regulations will remain after judicial scrutiny."

Between the time of Cotney's statement and the time of publication, uncertainty has continued around mandates. The most recent change came on Dec. 22 when the Supreme Court said it would hear arguments on the two mandate measures; a vaccine-or-testing mandate for employers with more than 100 workers and a vaccination requirement for certain health care workers. Cases will be presented to the Court on Jan. 7. 

Kugler said her members were "freaking out" over the mandates, finding the guidance unclear, and the responsibility a daunting undertaking to document 100% of workers vaccination status. As the responsible contractor on a public project, many GCs would also need to ensure the vaccination status of all the subcontractors on a jobsite, which could lead to a possible default.

Defaulting, Kugler said, severely limits a contractor's chances of ever winning a public work contract again.

In addition, construction managers find themself between a rock and a hard place as they try to facilitate the discussion between their workers who want an inoculated workforce and those opposed to vaccines. Construction's vaccine rate is low, as less than 60% of workers are vaccinated, compared to more than 80% across other publications, according to Silver Spring, Maryland-based CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training, a construction safety research group.

Simonson said he is hopeful that more workers would realize it is within their own self-interest to get vaccinated, for protecting themselves and their fellow workers. 

Mandates or no, contractors and groups are trying to encourage workers to take the vaccines. Jay Reed, president of ABC Alabama, told Construction Dive he's spoken to vaccinated business owners who have encouraged getting the shot, but don'y want it forced on their employees.

Nevertheless, Lofgren said, some workers and employers will have to face the fact that private clients will impose their own restrictions, which could mean less or no work for those that don't get the shots. That's something Skanska USA is already experiencing.

"Based on mandates from clients, contractors can expect to have vaccinated employees," Lofgren said. "We are seeing more private clients enacting vaccination mandates, not only in healthcare and life sciences sectors, but in other markets as well."

Meanwhile, the AGC has appealed to members to get the shots by filming public service announcements featuring workers who've gotten sick and recovered.

At the end of the day, the goal for employers and workers seems to be the same, Reed said: keeping work going.

"The show must go on. Shutting down is not going on," he said.

Officials mull possible $22M renovations or replacing Long Lots

Serenity Bishop

WESTPORT — School officials are looking at possibly spending at least $22 million to renovate Long Lots Elementary School or replacing the school entirely after a recent report presented to the Board of Education.

Colliers Project Leaders conducted a study to analyze various problems at the school, reporting renovations could cost $22 million, if not more. Charles E. Warrington, Jr., the company’s project management director, even suggested the school district should consider replacing the building entirely.

Board member Robert Harrington said it’s almost a “here we go again” situation.

Fresh off the reopening for Coleytown Middle School’s $32 million project, the school board is looking to use the lessons learned with that project to avoid a possible deja vu. The first way the school board plans to do that is to address the problem “expeditiously,” Superintendent Thomas Scarice said.

“I am very confident the board is going to take action expeditiously to move to the next step,” Scarice said. “I cannot see this languishing six, eight, ten, 12 months from now. I see board action happening.”

Maintenance has been a continual issue at Long Lots. Collier launched its study after mold was detected last August through a Tools For School analysis. While the mold was found and leaks were fixed, through additional testing Colliers found that the school needed more work. Warrington said some of the problems were just common things that are found in buildings built in the 1950s and 60s.

Long Lots was built in 1953 as a junior high school.

The study looked into indoor air quality, the building’s windows, walls, roof and ceilings, as well as the mechanical and electrical systems. It showed the building is “aging out,” Warrington told the school board.

Warrington said in a letter to Scarice that most of the systems in the building are past their useful life with many of them dating back to the original construction of the building. He said two of the major building systems are in poor condition, including the mechanical and electrical system.

“If one of these systems fails, it will typically cause the other to work harder or possibly become ineffective in its intended use,” Warrington said. “However, both systems are failing and in our professional opinion beyond their useful life where full replacement of the systems should be considered.”

Warrington said the building envelope — which consists of the roof, walls, doors, window and louvers, as well as the building slab and foundation — is also an issue.

“It is clear the building is aging out,” he said.

Scarice said the building is safe to inhabit and use and there has been “zero talk” about moving the 580 students out of the building.

While the report for the repairs at the elementary school came in at $22 million, Warrington said that the cost could go up. He said there are always hidden conditions within a building from this era that are “unforeseeable” until work starts.

“The possibilities are endless, but must be accounted for when budgeting for such a project,” he said.

Harrington and board member Neil Phillips said the board needed to get feedback from parents who dealt with the Coleytown renovation.

“Ask them if they had to do it over again, would they have [the school] built from scratch or renovate,” Harrington said.

Scarice said his intention is to return to the board in two to three months with two or three options that will better serve the school and its instructional model. Those options include a full renovation of the school, or to rebuild it either on its current footprint or somewhere else on the property.

“Now that a thorough review of the Long Lots Elementary School mechanical and building envelope has been completed, it will be necessary to review these projects in the context of the district-wide capital plan, and to make considerations for how the current facility supports, or hinders, sound elementary instructional practices,” Scarice said.

Texas firm proposes $54M mixed-use project on West St. in Southington

Jesse Buchanan

SOUTHINGTON — A Texas development company is looking to build a 264-unit apartment complex off West Street along with commercial spaces and amenities such as a clubhouse and park.

Anthony Properties is looking for town zoning changes to allow the $54 million project to proceed. The company wants to build on three properties totaling 41 acres owned by the Tolles family located at 1303, 1193 and 1177 West St.

Brian Shiu, development director for Anthony Properties, said the company is looking to build high-end apartments that will appeal to those looking for modern living spaces.

“What we like to find is places where there’s a need for new, class A projects,” he said Tuesday. “Our projects tend to cater to young, single professionals or empty nesters.”

Company officials accompanied by engineers and other representatives made their case to the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night. They’re looking to get a zoning change and haven’t yet proposed a specific plan although they did have a conceptual plan.

Those concepts included a 5,000 square-foot clubhouse, more than 17,000 square-feet of retail and commercial space, residential buildings for the more than 250 apartments and amenities such as walking trails. Access to the development would be through Curtiss Street which connects to West and Queen streets.

Mixed-use transition zone

The Tolles family has been looking to sell its West Street properties for years. In 2016, the land was changed from residential and industrial zoning to mixed-use transition zoning. The goal was to create an area that gradually changed from the commercial southern end of West Street near Interstate 84 to the residential areas further north.

Residents opposed the change at the time, saying it would increase traffic.

The mixed-use transition zone requires a square-foot ratio between residential and commercial space of two to one. That limit on residential development, as well as three other limitations on housing and building height, are what Anthony Properties is looking to change.

Gary O’Connor, an attorney representing the company, said demand for commercial and retail space has declined significantly since the regulations were changed. He said an economically feasible development at the property would include much more housing.

O’Connor’s proposal would change the square footage ratio from two to one to five to one, allowing for many more apartments. It also increases the units per acre from 5 to 6.5 and allows buildings to be a maximum of four stories high.

O’Connor said there’s already plenty of commercial development in that area of West Street.

“What is really needed is not more commercial development that’ll only compete with the existing businesses but a rational approach to a mixed use development,” he said. “The bulk of the buildings will be for residential.”

Commissioners hesitant

A proposal to add more than 250 apartments to West Street along with more retail space would cause the hair on the back of residents’ necks to stand up, according to commission member Peter Santago.

“You probably couldn’t have picked a more sensitive topic to Southington residents than a development along West Street,” he said.

Bob Salka, commission vice chairman, said he was concerned about granting the changes since they’d also apply to the other mixed-use transition zone further up West Street.

Christina Volpe asked that the matter be given more thought. The public hearing will remain open, allowing town residents to speak on the plan at future commission meetings. The commission didn’t vote on the zoning changes.

Volpe said she saw the positives of the development but also some drawbacks.

“We cannot deny that this would add traffic to that area,” she said.

Cooper Street bridge in Meriden expected to reopen this week

Lauren Sellew

MERIDEN — The Cooper Street bridge spanning Harbor Brook is expected to reopen Friday after reconstruction. 

The project began in April 2021 and was expected to be completed in December, according to a notice from the city. The work was contracted out and the crews experienced some delays due to weather, City Manager Timothy Coon said Wednesday.

The contractor, LaRosa Construction, reported that some equipment couldn’t be used on bitterly cold days, which delayed the project slightly, according to Howard Weissberg, city public works director. The goal was to get it done right, not in a rush, he said. The project was years in the making, he added. 

“It’s going to alleviate traffic congestion on the side streets, which has been light due to COVID,” Weissberg said Wednesday. “It will reduce travel times...and will help improve east to west connectivity.”

The project required closing Cooper Street between Meridian and Cherry streets. Access for residents and businesses was maintained. The work was part of the Harbor Brook flood control project. Weissberg said the previous opening under the bridge was extremely small, and the new bridge has much larger culverts in place. This will allow a storm water to pass through the area with fewer issues. Coon said he is glad the bridge will be opening.

“It will certainly improve the flow and help businesses in the area,” Coon said. “Ultimately it is part of the Harbor Brook project. It will facilitate the movement of flood waters through the area.”

There is still work to be done both downstream and upstream to control flooding, Weissberg said.  The city opened bids on Tuesday for the next project, which will involve channel improvements from Hanover Avenue to Cooper Street, Weissberg said. That project will involve over a thousand feet of channel improvement including off-road trails, two parking areas for the trails, a new signal and crossing across Cook Avenue and Summer Street, he said. It is anticipated to be a two-year project. 

“It is a very, very significant project,” Weissberg said. “It will have an extremely positive impact on flooding in (the Summer Street) area. 

Once that section of trail is completed it will link to another trail section this summer so there will be full trail connectivity from the Cheshire town line to Cooper Street, Weissberg said. 

One-year moratorium on warehouse applications sought by South Windsor resident

Joseph Villanova

ASouth Windsor resident filed an application with the town's Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan. 11 asking for a one-year moratorium on any warehouse or distribution center proposals.

Kathryn Kerrigan of Main Street said she filed the application because the town needs time to update its zoning regulations and Plan of Conservation and Development to properly accommodate such proposals.

“This is a time for [the PZC] to step back,” Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said she anticipates the application will have a public hearing in the middle of March, based on conversations with members of the Planning Department, but a date has not been confirmed.

Kerrigan said her neighborhood has been “pretty much ruined” by nearby tractor-trailer traffic, but it’s not too late to prevent the same thing from happening to other neighborhoods in town, such as those near the proposed 360,000 square-foot distribution facility along Governor’s Highway and Talbot Lane.

“Once that genie’s out of the bottle, there’s no turning back,” Kerrigan said.

Amazon, Aldi’s, Coca-Cola and Home Depot occupy existing distribution centers in town in the area of Sullivan Avenue and Route 5.

Kerrigan said while the PZC rejected the Talbot Lane distribution center in December, developers could win a subsequent lawsuit they filed, and the updated application would require approval.

“It’ll be a shame if it gets passed, but if they just make a few corrections, a few changes to truck queuing for instance, it may hold up in a court,” Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said many of the developers who propose warehouses and distribution centers come from outside of town.

“They have no vested interest in making sure we have some sort of quality of life,” Kerrigan said.

The town’s zoning regulations lack a firm footing for the PZC to stand against undesirable warehouse and distribution center proposals, she said. If the moratorium is adopted, it would give the town time to develop such a backing.

“If we can’t come up with legal reasons to deny these applications, we get sued, they reapply and they win,” Kerrigan said.

The application document lists a number of items to consider for regulation changes, including restrictions on the sizes of new buildings, a review of traffic and noise standards and more clear definitions for warehouses, distribution facilities and freight terminals.