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CT Construction Digest Monday August 22, 2022

Coast Guard celebrates start of museum construction

Erica Moser

New London ― Coast Guard officials, National Coast Guard Museum Association members, and politicians gathered Friday afternoon at City Pier for a keel-laying ceremony to celebrate the start of construction for the future museum.

Eight years ago there was a ceremonial groundbreaking for the museum but on Friday Mayor Michael Passero’s message was: “It’s happening.”

It was also a reference to the banner hanging on the other side of the train station and the city’s new campaign.

“This is going to be really the crowning jewel of the revitalization of this great seaport city,” he said.

The ceremony marked the first official visit to the future museum site for Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan since she became head of the service June 1. She said the museum “will enable us to tell our story in ways we’ve never been able to before.”

The project cost for the museum was estimated at $80 million in 2014 and is now $150 million. President Joe Biden in March signed a federal funding bill that included $50 million for the museum, bringing total funding to date to $131 million.

Museum association spokesperson Drew Forster said that includes $31 million in private fundraising ― the same figure cited in February ― and the association needs to raise the remaining $19 million.

Forster said the project has all the necessary permits, having received the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit earlier this summer, and he anticipates that bulkhead and fill work will begin in about a week. The construction manager is A/Z Corp. and the architect is Payette.

Forster said construction will begin with in-the-water work, driving sheet piles to extend the land and thus the museum footprint. Phase I is laying the groundwork for construction of the museum and a pedestrian bridge going over the railroad tracks.

Construction is scheduled to finish in 2024.

“This day feels different. It feels really special,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

“There were times when people were wondering, after the first anniversary of the authorization by Congress in 2005, if we were ever going to get to this point,” he added.

Courtney said there are 125 military museums in the country but only one listed for the Coast Guard, the one at the Coast Guard Academy, which he noted is “not really a very public space for Americans and visitors to come to.”

The congressman noted that when U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited Groton on Tuesday, Walsh noted that the late Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley used to say that the crane is his favorite bird, and Courtney said “we got a lot of cranes that are here in New London.”

State Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman said the museum is “just one part of a larger effort to support a renewed vibrancy here in this city,” citing the work at Electric Boat across the river and the State Pier renovation.

Among the attendees were many Coast Guard veterans, and for some, it was a reunion. Two retirees who worked together at an air station in the 80s and 90s bumped into each other, respectively coming to the event from their homes in North Carolina and Willimantic.

Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent W. Patton III recalled when he was active duty in 1999, serving as the senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard, then-Commandant Adm. James Loy summoned him into his office and asked, “What do you think about building a national Coast Guard Museum?”

As evidenced by the two-plus decades since, Patton noted that was easier said than done, with the need to identify a location and identify where to get funding. And being at the ceremony Friday made him emotional.

“In two years when the doors open, I will be even more emotional than I am today,” Patton said. “I cried, because I though back to the 20 years of the toil and efforts.”

The ceremony Friday was also an opportunity for guests to sign the waler, a horizontal support that will go underwater to support the expanded footprint.

“When building a ship, the ‘keel-laying’ is a long-recognized tradition of laying down the ship ‘s backbone to mark the start of construction,” said Master of Ceremonies Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, external affairs officer at the Coast Guard Academy. “Today we’ll draw from this shipbuilding tradition as we lay a new foundation that will show and tell the Coast Guard’s story into the future.”

The Coast Guard on Friday also presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to Susan Curtin, who has served as chairwoman of the museum association’s board of directors since 2018.

“I naively got involved in this project about seven years ago, along with my father, and I could have never predicted the journey we’d be on,” Curtin said.

Also speaking at the ceremony were Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Federal probe covers all aspects of CT Port Authority operations

Keith M. Phaneuf

The Connecticut Port Authority has fully complied with subpoenas from federal and state investigators probing the development of the state pier in New London and other operations, authority Chairman David Kooris said Friday.

In a subpoena issued last March, the U.S. Department of Justice requested all records and correspondence effectively covering all authority business between 2016 and the present. 

Kooris said this includes matters related to the development of the state pier to serve as the launching point for a new offshore wind-to-energy project. 

Documents provided to federal authorities were related to: Gateway Terminal, the firm selected in 2018 to oversee the pier transformation; Gateway’s former partner, Enstructure LLC; Logistec Connecticut, which was the previous pier operator; Seabury Capital Group of New York, the consultants who helped the authority select Gateway; and the lobbying firm of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates, which represents Ørsted North America and Eversource, developers of the wind turbine project; and various communications firms.

“We have tried to be as transparent as possible in notifying the Board [of Directors] of ongoing investigations while being respectful to the investigating authorities’ requests” to keep information confidential as they collect evidence, Kooris said. “I am confident that we have been very responsive and provided everything they have asked for in a timely manner.”

The existence of the subpoena was first reported by The Day of New London.

Tom Carson, spokesman for the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, said Friday the office neither confirms nor denies whether an investigation is in process.

The CT Mirror first reported in February that federal and state authorities were investigating the pier initiative and other capital projects that had been overseen by Lamont’s former deputy budget director, Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis.

A federal grand jury issued a subpoena for all emails, text messages and attachments involving Diamantis and a broad range of construction projects on Oct. 20, eight days before Lamont removed him from his post, which also included oversight of the state’s municipal school construction grants program.

Meanwhile, Kooris has been trying to put out legal and political fires at the port authority since Lamont named him to lead the board as part of a larger overhaul of the quasi-public entity’s operations in July 2019.

One of the largest fires involves the authority’s decision in May 2018 to hire Seabury Capital to help find a new pier operator. It paid Seabury $700,000 for that work, including a $523,000 “success” or reward fee. That happened three months after Henry Juan III of Greenwich — who was a managing director with Seabury — had resigned from the authority board.

The State Contracting Standards Board, a watchdog agency,  adopted a report in February that compared this success fee with the “finder’s fees” the General Assembly banned more than two decades ago. That ban followed a scandal in the late 1990s that sent then-state Treasurer Paul Silvester to prison.

And the Office of State Ethics announced in early July that it had fined Seabury $10,000 for providing more than $3,000 in food and gifts —including hockey tickets and an overnight stay at a Greenwich club — to authority officials in 2017 and 2019. This also pre-dated Kooris’ tenure as board chairman.

Kooris also confirmed Friday that state Attorney General William Tong’s office had issued two subpoenas for authority records in October 2021.

One of those subpoenas is tied to an anti-trust investigation that has since closed, Kooris said. This involved Dealy Mahler Strategies of Milford, a communications and marketing firm previously retained by the authority.

Kooris released the federal subpoena as well as the subpoena from Tong’s office involving the closed investigation.

But Kooris declined to release the second subpoena from the AG, saying he believes both Tong’s office and the authority are exempted from disclosing it at this stage in the investigation.

When asked about Kooris’ assertion, Deputy Attorney General Margaret Chapple said Friday only that “the attorney general’s office does not represent the Connecticut Port Authority.”

Chapple declined to comment when asked about any potential investigations pending against the authority.

Kooris added that he is confident the investigations would have no impact on the planned dredging of the Thames River this fall and winter, a key step in preparing the port to support the wind-to-energy initiative.

The New London pier transformation project, including the dredging work, also has come under fire because of escalating cots. Priced three years ago at $93 million, it now is estimated at more than $255 million. Connecticut’s share now stands at $178 million, with $77.5 million coming from private partners.

Complete Streets project set to begin soon in Newington

Erica Drzewiecki

NEWINGTON – The Town is set to begin a $3.3 million improvement project along the Maple Hill and Robbins Avenue corridor later this month.

The Department of Transportation’s Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP) awarded Newington a grant that covers the entire project. Construction is expected to begin Aug. 29 and be completed by the end of summer 2023.

“It’s a 210-day duration of construction, not counting December through February,” Town Engineer Gary Fuerstenberg told the Herald. “Our plan is to complete the Maple Hill segment this year and then complete the Robbins Avenue segment in spring and summer of 2023.”

The entire project corridor is less than two miles in length. It begins along Maple Hill Avenue from New Britain Avenue to Robbins Avenue, then turns right onto Robbins and continues across Willard Avenue, ending at Main Street.

Planned improvements will include milling and paving, sidewalks, drainage, turn signals and the reconstruction of Vivian Path. The section of Robbins Avenue between Maple Hill and Willard will be reduced from four to two lanes, with a center left turn lane and new bike lanes. There will be some widening to accommodate turn lanes and width restrictions.

A Public Information Meeting on the project is set to take place next Thursday, Aug, 25 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. A notice of this meeting was mailed to about 250 residents and businesses along the project corridor.

“We just want to let the public know what’s happening as we start construction,” Fuerstenberg said. “We do not expect any road closures… we expect to be able to complete the work maintaining two lanes of traffic.”

Berlin-based contractor Colossale Site Works will be completing the work and Thompson Green Tectonic Engineering Consultants out of Rocky Hill will be the construction inspector.

Increasing Newington’s bike-ability has been a priority for Fuerstenberg since he started with the town in 2017.

“The only bike lanes currently are at the West Hartford/Newington town line,” he pointed out. “We plan to expand the bike lanes in the central part of town and link them to bike lanes in other towns where we can.”

A bike repair station will also be installed along the corridor as part of the Complete Streets project, courtesy of a grant from the Central Connecticut Health District.

172-unit luxury apartment building planned for Children’s Museum site in West Hartford

Michael Puffer

The New York developer picked to buy and redevelop the Children’s Museum site in West Hartford has submitted plans for a 172-unit, S-shaped, luxury apartment building packed with amenities.

The neighboring Kingsford Oxford School decided in 2020 to sell the property underlying the museum at 950 Trout Brook Drive and athletic fields to the south – a total of 3.3 acres. Following a search, the school announced in January plans to sell to Continental Properties. At the time the company said it was planning a luxury apartment complex, but few details were shared.

The school has since added six-tenths of an acre to the land it plans to sell.

The scale and scope of the development is detailed in an application submitted to West Hartford in July. The West Hartford Town Council will open a public hearing on Oct. 12.

The Children’s Museum has received town permission for a temporary move to unused space at West Hartford’s Emanuel Synagogue. Museum representatives told town officials the move would be completed in September.

The planned development would include 69 one-bedroom, 94 two-bedroom and nine three-bedroom apartments, served by 323 parking spaces.

The development would include a south-facing courtyard with a “resort quality” pool, along with a fire pit, lounge area and barbeque area. There will be a small roof deck, clubroom, fitness center, catering kitchen, games room, coworking space and pet-washing station. Plans include indoor and outdoor bicycle racks, as well as electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot.

Three-bedroom units will average 1,378 square feet and rent for approximately $3,100 monthly, according to the application. Two-bedrooms will average 1,168 square feet and rent for about $2,850 monthly. One-bedroom apartments will come with a den, average 714 to 978 square feet and rent for approximately $2,350 monthly.

In its application, Continental touts a 65-year history of financial strength. The company describes itself as one of the largest residential builders on the East Coast, with construction of more than 25,000 dwelling units. Continental said it owns and operates more than 5,100 apartments, including more than 1,200 in Glastonbury, South Windsor and Rocky Hill.

Continental – which operates locally as West Hartford Partners LLC – is asking West Hartford to rezone the property and to create a special development district. It also needs a wetlands permit due to proximity to Trout Brook. The impacted area is currently paved so any changes would only improve stormwater management, according to the application.

The zone change sought by the developer would allow an eight-story building, up to 85 feet in height. The proposed development would have five residential floors with parking on the first story or basement area, for an average height of 65.8 feet, according to the application.

Continental's principals are Howard Rappaport and Steven Fisch. Continental hired Lessard Design, of Vienna, Virginia, to develop plans. Timothy Hollister of Hinkley Allen is representing the proposal.

Other members of the development team include James Cassidy of Hallisey, Pearson & Cassidy Engineering; Chuck Coursey, president of Coursey & Co.; and Jason Williams of SLR Consulting. 

East Hartford to consider whether to condemn rundown Silver Lane strip mall

Don Stacom

Frustrated by years and years of blight along the Silver Lane corridor, East Hartford is considering invoking eminent domain to seize control of a deteriorated half-vacant shopping center.

The town’s redevelopment agency last week unanimously agreed to hold a hearing Aug. 25 on whether the town should condemn the 21-acre Silver Lane Plaza property.

East Hartford this year designated the strip mall as the priority target for cleanup to enable a wide-ranging revitalization of the Silver Lane corridor.

Development Director Eileen Buckheit told the agency last week that the town has tried “good faith” negotiations with the owner, East Hartford Venture LLC, but the two sides haven’t been able to agree on a price.

Last winter, Mayor Mike Walsh told an interviewer from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association that his administration wanted to spend part of $10 million in state grants to buy the plaza and demolish its three buildings.

“We have a pool of money that comes to us from the state where we can negotiate with that owner and say ‘Listen, we have a different vision for our community, we have a different way forward,’ ” Walsh said.

But even back then, Walsh said there wasn’t progress.

“We have an appraisal at about $4.6 million, we have the money in hand, we have a pretty good idea of what we should pay. But now we have a reluctant owner who is really not investing in the community, really not a part of the community, saying ‘Wait a minute, I don’t think I want to sell to you,” he said.

Although Walsh hasn’t publicly discussed the possibility of using eminent domain to force a transaction, he hinted at it in the winter when he said: “Should we use all the tools in our toolbox to really do what the community loud and clear that we should do: Improve the Silver Lane corridor and bring development to East Hartford.”

Historically eminent domain has been used when cities, states or the federal government want land for highways, schools, prisons, police headquarters or similar purposes. The government in each case is required to demonstrate that it is paying the owner fair value for the property.

Attorney Mark Shipman, who represents the landowner, did not return a phone message Thursday.

The Silver Lane Plaza strip mall is one of the last remaining components of a once-thriving retail and entertainment hub in East Hartford that began a decline decades ago.

The Charter Oak Mall is rundown and Stop and Shop last winter moved out, leaving one of its largest sections vacant. Several restaurants and fast food outlets in and around mall property closed years ago, and the nearby Showcase Cinemas stood vacant for years before being demolished recently.

The theater site is now the focus of Silver Lane redevelopment: Developers Avner Krohn and Zelman Real Estate are planning 440 upscale apartments on the 26-acre site.

East Hartford planners on Wednesday gave a key approval for redevelopment of a 26-acre property that could transform the Silver Lane corridor and bring nearly 440 upscale apartments to town. Their plan is a series of three- and four-story buildings along with a 10,000-square-foot amenities center with a gym and pool.

About a mile west on Silver Lane, the 300-acre Rentschler Field is in for major changes. Raytheon Technologies last year agreed to sell the property to National Development, which plans two large logistics centers and other commercial and industrial development.

Walsh and local economic development officials agree that those sorts of projects can lead to a complete remake of the Silver Lane corridor. But that won’t happen if badly rundown, largely empty commercial properties remain, they said.

East Hartford has identified the plaza as the most important site to address; it wants to raze its three buildings and seek private developers for a new use.

The Aug. 25 hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at town hall and will address whether the town should consider eminent domain. If the redevelopment authority finds that East Hartford should proceed, it will issue a report to the town council for a decision.

Wheeler Health set to break ground on new Bristol HQ, health center this fall

Robert Storace

Wheeler Health – which has several family health and wellness centers in central Connecticut – announced Monday that it has brought on New Britain-based Downes Construction Co. to oversee construction of a new planned 46,000-square-foot community health center and administrative headquarters on Hope Street in Bristol.

Construction on the project is expected to start this fall. Wheeler said it has already reached 80% of its $500,000 project fundraising goal. 

Wheeler Health said the new flagship facility at Bristol Centre Square downtown is anticipated to open late next yer and will employ more than 200 full- and part-time workers.

Wheeler Health said it was consolidating services already provided on North Main Street in Bristol “to realize its vision of truly integrated primary and behavioral health care under one roof.”

Services currently offered at 10 and 225 North Main St. in Bristol include adult primary care, pediatrics, behavioral health, and psychiatry and addiction treatment, among others.

“This will be an amazing center to improve the health of the entire community, including integrating nutrition into care plans, and providing access to fresh produce,” Wheeler CEO and President Sabrina Trocchi said. “We know that healthy diet is a vital element to better health outcomes.”

Wheeler also announced on Wednesday the launch of a new intensive mental health outpatient pilot program for children and teens at 855 Lakewood Road in Waterbury.