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CT Construction Digest Monday August 23, 2021

Newington still discussing whether Anna Reynolds School project should move forward with renovation or build new

Olivia Marble

NEWINGTON - The Anna Reynolds School Project Building Committee is discussing whether to move forward with renovating the old building or whether building a new one would be a better option.

One of the town’s contracted construction companies, Newfield Construction, brought forward the possibility that building a new building may cost less than renovating the almost 70 year old building as new, which was the option that passed a referendum vote last year.

Chair of the committee Stephen Woods said the committee looked “in depth” at the possibility of building a new building early on in the process, but discounted that option for a variety of reasons, including time and cost. He does not believe Newfield Construction has presented any information that would change the committee’s recommendation.

“As far as I’m concerned, the decision has been made. We’re moving down the path of renovating as new,” Woods said.

Newfield Construction Project Executive Tom DeMauro presented a chart of the potential costs of building a new building versus renovating as new at the committee’s latest meeting Thursday. Renovating as new means the building will receive the same certifications new buildings have to have once the renovation is completed.

The chart suggested it would cost the town more to renovate as new, mostly because of a reimbursement penalty from the state for having a greater square footage than allowed.

However, Woods said a representative from the state’s Office of School Construction Grants & Review assured him they would not penalize the town for that space because it is an inherited building.

Woods also pointed out the potential new building that Newfield Construction presented would only have about 54,000 square feet of usable space, whereas the current building has about 63,000 square feet. He said the school needs all the space they currently have.

Michael Camillo, one of the town council representatives on the committee, said he believes the school could function with less space than it currently has. Camillo also believes the committee needs more information before discounting Newfield Construction’s idea. He joined the committee recently, and he believes they did not do enough testing beforehand, so they do not have enough information to make a decision.

“I want all the information that should’ve come out a couple years ago,” Camillo said. “When you start a new project you should do your homework and figure out everything, but that wasn’t done.”

Camillo is not certain whether building a new building is the best option, but he has concerns about construction happening in the same building where children are learning. He also worries a renovated building may not last as long as a new one, and if constructing of a new building would potentially cost less, it might be the best option.

“Why wouldn’t you give the kids a brand new state-of-the-art school?” Camillo asked.

Newfield Construction also said building a new building may take less time than renovating the current building as new, but it is unclear if that is true because of the time it takes to bring the project back to a referendum vote and to secure the new permits.

The discussion of whether to change course has not slowed down the process of preparing to renovate the current building, Woods said.

At the meeting, some residents expressed concern that Newfield Construction was pushing too hard for a new building and may not be the right partner for the project if they decide to renovate as new. DeMauro told the Herald he was just trying to present the town with information.

“It doesn’t matter to us which they do. It’s up to the town,” DeMauro said.

Bridgeport: Roadwork at Boston, Seaview avenues not linked to Remington Woods development

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — After over two decades the city is moving forward with improvements to the intersection of Seaview and Boston avenues and Bond Street that were originally connected with a proposed office park at the nearby Remington Woods/Lake Success property.

The public facilities department recently advertised for the roadwork and is examining the responses from three contractors ahead of awarding the bid.

Meanwhile Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration has insisted the effort — most of it paid for with around $10 million in long-dormant federal earmarks — is for the benefit of the new Warren Harding High School and surrounding neighborhood, and should not be misinterpreted as a sign Remington Wood’s private owner is moving forward with any redevelopment there.

“I don’t know what the original intent (of the roadwork) was. This is a 20-, 25-year-old earmark received and never acted on,” City Engineer Jon Urquidi said.

Urquidi said the opening of the new Harding building three years ago along Bond Street on the former General Electric site resulted in “a lot of congestion issues” in that area, with Seaview Avenue “in pretty poor shape” from years of underground utility work and from neglect.

According to the state Department of Transportation, the project’s scope includes the realignment of the intersection at Seaview and Barnum avenues, “pavement rehabilitation, drainage improvements, replacement and upgrade of traffic signal equipment, new sidewalks and streetscape enhancements,” along with the reconstruction of over half of Bond Street up to Stewart Street.

“It’s the full kind of gamut of civil improvements,” Urquidi said.

But when originally envisioned in the late 1990s, according to the DOT’s records, those improvements were linked to an effort to transform part of the Remington Arms Co.’s one-time blue collar munitions test site at Remington Woods/Lake Success into a white collar business park.

“Our design is not intending to absorb any traffic” from any future redevelopment, Urquidi said.

The 420-acre property, partially located in Stratford, is currently owned by a subsidiary of Dupont Corporation and the focus of a years-long cleanup of industrial contamination involving the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The office park concept has languished for two decades and been consistently opposed by neighbors and conservation groups who want to preserve as much of the natural habitat in the woods as possible. The Sierra Club has dubbed the land “Bridgeport’s urban forest (and) lungs” and argued it should be saved for cleaner air as well as educational and passive recreational opportunities.

A Dupont spokesperson did not return requests for comment about future uses. According to the state DEEP, remediation work continues, particularly at Lake Success with the “processing of ... sediments in order to separate remaining discarded military munitions.” That is scheduled for completion in March 2023.

Urquidi said Dupont was recently consulted on the Seaview plans.

“When we design things like this we have to take into account future (traffic) volumes,” he said. “They said there’s no traffic volume from anything we develop.” He said in the past it has been suggested vehicles would enter an office park from the Stratford side.

“I can’t say what they’re development intent is. It’s private property. I suppose they could do whatever they want,” Urquidi added of Dupont. “But from the city’s perspective, we’re building this for safety improvements, roadway improvements, pedestrians and bikes.”

When last year Urquidi and staff from Bridgeport’s economic development office briefed City Council members on the planned revival of the long-in-limbo Seaview/Barnum/Bond work, they were met with suspicion the end goal was Remington’s redevelopment.

“I really feel that’s the reason,” Councilman Matthew McCarthy said.

“The people in this district don’t want Remington Woods developed,” said Councilwoman Maria Pereira.

William Coleman, Bridgeport’s deputy director of economic development, responded at the time, “The Seaview Avenue project is really envisioned as one that will create a better and safer network of roads for local uses.”

“It’s not Dupont’s driveway,” Coleman said. “It’s not.”

He also noted that the city’s 10-year master plan adopted in 2019 deemphasized building at Remington.

That online document states that “significant areas, such as the Remington Woods/Lake Success property, present the city with a chance to increase its publicly accessible open space and protected natural habitat, while also generating opportunities for economic development.”

The plan goes on to specify that the city will work in partnership with Dupont and “interested conservation groups ... to advance the environmental clean-up and reuse of this site in ways that may advance the preservation of, and public access to, the urban forest.”

With apartment boom still raging, Greater Hartford developers focus on amenities to lure tenants

Sean Teehan

Residents at the new 160-unit Cromwell apartment complex dubbed The Landon will have access to an upscale fitness center, coworking space and a dog spa, in addition to other perks.

About 5,000 square feet of the complex is dedicated to such amenities.

Up to about a decade ago a building with all those bells and whistles outside a major city would likely be an outlier, said Michael Belfonti, CEO of Hamden-based Belfonti Cos., which developed the Landon. But today, such features are necessary to compete for tenants.

“In the old days, if people could buy, they would never rent — rent was thought of as a second alternative,” Belfonti said. “That’s not the case anymore.”

In an effort to serve a combination of empty nesters and well-healed Millennials who are renting apartments instead of buying houses, Belfonti and other developers with projects in Greater Hartford say that highly-amenitized buildings are becoming their default.

And as many white-collar workers shift to a hybrid work setup in which they spend more time at home, features that once seemed opulent are becoming necessary to attract such tenants.

The trend of developers including more amenities in new residential buildings predates COVID-19 and the resulting work-from-home arrangements. A study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard found renters with a household income of at least $75,000 accounted for three-quarters of the growth in U.S. renters between 2010 and 2018, a period during which apartment dwellers grew by 3.2 million.

Hartford-based developer Marty Kenny said that for about a decade developers seemed to be trying to outdo each other by including increasingly extravagant features to buildings and complexes geared toward young professionals and empty nesters.

“The amenities thing for a while was like a nuclear arms race,” said Kenny, president of Lexington Partners LLC. “Some of it’s silly, like do I really need a rock climbing wall in my building?”

But the market appears to have reached a new normal in which market-rate apartment developments cannot, for example, simply stick a treadmill and dumbbells in an open area to serve as a gym, and still be competitive.

Fitness centers with state-of-the-art equipment and common areas for socializing are must-haves for new complexes, Kenny said.

In June 2020, tenants started moving into The Borden, a $32-million apartment complex Lexington Partners developed on the Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield. The five-story, 111-unit building includes a fitness center that has a golf simulator, rooftop lounge and pet spa.

It only took about five months for the building — which is currently advertising a studio unit for $1,560 per month and a two-bedroom at $3,068 — to reach 95% occupancy, Kenny said.

“Renters now aren’t renters by necessity, they’re renters by choice,” Kenny said. “People are looking for a social life, and for amenities that distinguish an apartment building from an ordinary… apartment complex.”

Critical lifestyle

If the market for multifamily housing was trending toward more amenities before COVID-19, the pandemic has increased the importance of features like coworking spaces and yoga studios, said Randy Salvatore, founder and CEO of Stamford-based RMS Cos.

As white-collar employers in Greater Hartford and across the country are largely converting their workforce to hybrid schedules, allowing employees to work from home at least one or two days per week, renters seem to be opting for buildings that have common areas for work and recreation, Salvatore said.

RMS is currently building the North Crossing development in downtown Hartford near Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The project’s $50 million first phase will include 270 apartment units at the corner of Main and Trumbull streets. It will also have about 14,000 square feet of space housing amenities like a gym with interactive training screens — similar to Peloton — outdoor grilling areas and a bowling alley.

There will also be a rooftop deck with views inside the baseball stadium.

The targeted renters are people who may start the day working from their apartment, migrate to a coworking area for coffee and a change of scenery, take a break to work out at the gym and finish their day on the rooftop, where they can relax and socialize once they’re done with work.

“These are critical lifestyle things that are so much more than ... the four walls where you’re going to sleep,” Salvatore said. “We’re elevating things because of the amount of time people are now spending in their apartments.”

Many prospective tenants won’t even look at buildings without 5G internet, not amenable to pets and that lack at least some upscale features in common areas, said Michael Freimuth, executive director of the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA). But now-a-days, many are also seeking out an urban lifestyle complete with easy access to transportation, and restaurants and entertainment within walking distance.

In the past, young professionals working in Hartford opted for buildings in nearby suburbs like Manchester and Rocky Hill, said Freimuth, who has overseen the conversion of downtown office buildings into more than 2,000 residential units in recent years.

That’s not really the case anymore, he said.

“Today, they’re more likely to be headed to downtown [Hartford], and are comfortable with downtown,” Freimuth said. “The folks who are coming downtown are generally new to the area … [and] receptive to urban living.”

City living

For Kenny’s two current projects in downtown Hartford, urban living is the main amenity the buildings offer, he said.

Kenny is part of a development team — that also includes LAZ Parking’s Alan Lazowski and Shelbourne Global Solutions — that is converting a former office building at 99 Pratt St. and 196 Trumbull St. into 127 residential housing units, and will break ground on a project converting 42 townhouses on Temple Street into multi-tenant apartment buildings in September. As the projects move forward, Kenny and partners are also trying to revitalize Pratt Street in an effort to make the area a draw for prospective urbanites.

In order for downtown buildings to really attract the rising demographic of renters-by-choice, the city will need to add more restaurants, entertainment and retail options, Kenny said.

There is a window of opportunity for growth, Kenny said, with a number of residential buildings set to come online in the coming months and years, and vacant commercial and office buildings in the area. If the right mix of arts and entertainment venues, restaurants and services open to serve people moving into apartments, every downtown apartment building will be able to offer prospective tenants the city living they desire without the price tag of New York or Boston.

Kenny said a tenant at one downtown Hartford building Lexington owns, Spectra Pearl, moved from an apartment in New York’s Theater District into a penthouse unit in Hartford.

“He’s found something where he has a quality of life he didn’t have,” Kenny said. “He’s got more space, and he’s still living an urban lifestyle.”

Pandemic doesn’t slow CT private college campus expansion plans


Michelle France

Colleges in Connecticut and nationwide have been in a campus construction arms race for years — spending billions of dollars annually to build shiny new buildings in hopes of attracting potential student recruits.

And it appears not even a global pandemic will slow those efforts, as three Greater Hartford colleges — University of Hartford, University of St. Joseph and Wesleyan University — prepare to debut, or start construction on, newly renovated or brand new, multimillion-dollar facilities.

And while the new buildings are located on different campuses and in different parts of the state, they all share one thing in common — they’re catering to growing degree programs in health care, science and technology.

Those are all sectors that are expected to see significant job growth in the years ahead, and have become major competitive areas for local colleges, which have been increasingly fighting over a shrinking consumer base.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and information technology occupations, for example, are projected to grow 11% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all job categories.  The labor bureau projects there will be more than 531,000 new jobs during that time.

Employment in healthcare occupations are also projected to grow faster than average, according to the labor bureau, which estimates jobs in health care will grow 15% by 2029, adding 2.4 million new jobs.

Growing opportunity

Nursing is the largest healthcare program at the University of Hartford, but the school is also seeing an increase in students seeking other related programs like physical therapy, respiratory care and radiologic technology, said Cesarina Thompson, the school’s dean of the college of education, nursing and health professions.

For those reasons, the private college built The Francis X. and Nancy Hursey Center for Advanced Engineering and Health Professions, which is on track to debut later this month.

The school is spending $58 million on recent construction projects including the new 60,000-square-foot building and upgrades to other classrooms and lab space on campus.

The University of St. Joseph (USJ) in West Hartford had the same idea when it expanded and renovated a nursing education and simulation center at the college.

USJ President Rhona Free said the college has seen the greatest growth in healthcare programs, including nursing, health science, nutrition, exercise science, public health, pharmacy and physician assistant.

“That’s where we see the most interest from students and where we see great workforce needs, so we really wanted to make sure we were providing outstanding education in those areas and that requires having the right facilities,” said Free.

In the last four years, healthcare and science majors, such as biochemistry and biology, have increased from representing 45% of USJ’s student population to 49%, for a total of 1,200 students, she said.

Meantime, Wesleyan University, the private, liberal-arts college located in the heart of Middletown, is planning to build a new $255 million, 193,000-square-foot science center that would replace its aging Hall-Atwater Laboratory building.

“It’s not adequate for the admissions of the laboratory work and the teaching of sciences that we want to continue in the future,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth of the preexisting structure.

While the project is still in the design phase, it’s on track to move into construction planning this fall, Roth said, with the project’s debut still a few years away.

New buildings, new offerings

The plans for Wesleyan’s new science center, which will make room for a new environmental studies program and a minor in integrated design, engineering and applied science, come before the school finishes another large renovation of its Public Affairs Center. That $55 million project began in June and should be completed in 2024, according to Roth.

While the size of the Public Affairs Center will remain the same, the renovated space will offer advanced learning in programs such as computational analysis in campaign advertising, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Roth said.

“This will serve more of our students and classes than any other building on campus,” he said.

The University of Hartford’s new Hursey Center will feature technology-focused labs for advanced studies in areas such as robotics, 3D printing, mechanical engineering and cybersecurity. It will also include several labs, such as a simulation suite, to advance the school’s health sciences programs.

Specialty insurer Hartford Steam Boiler recently announced it was sponsoring an Internet of Things lab at the new building that will be equipped with smart technology capabilities, giving UHart students hands-on training with sensors and other related technology.

The new facility also created a path for the school to offer two new programs: exercise science and occupational therapy, according to Thompson.

The University of St. Joseph’s newly renovated and expanded Center for Nursing Excellence will grow the school’s lab space and move toward simulation learning, Free said.

For example, the school will now offer students learning on high-fidelity manikins, which can mimic human body functions, like breathing, heart palpitations and a pulse rate.

Health care, however, is not the only growing program at the school, Free said, adding that USJ has also had an increase in students interested in athletics or fitness.

To meet this demand, the school spent about $16.2 million to renovate and expand its O’Connell Athletic Center that will double in size to 31,000 square feet.

Funding strategies

The colleges have taken various routes to fund their projects, but they are each tapping into the bond market.

UHart is mostly funding its campus construction projects via a 30-year public debt offering. The remainder was funded through donations and industry partners like Hartford Steam Boiler, Stanley Black & Decker, Hartford HealthCare, and Pratt & Whitney, the college said.

There is also a $2 million pledge for an endowment gift to cover future expenses related to the new building.

Wesleyan’s science center will be funded through green bonds, donations and money the school put aside over the years that was invested and grew to about $60 million, according to Roth.

“That helped us have confidence to go to the bond market knowing that we were building up our reserves,” Roth said. “And given the low interest rate environment, it made sense to put money in the endowment and borrow at a very low interest rate.”

The college has also been fundraising for the projects, which has been exceeding expectations, Roth said.

The University of St. Joseph’s athletic center was primarily funded with bonds through the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority, and its Center for Nursing Excellence was funded by gifts from trustees, alumni and friends of the university, according to the school.

And USJ is not stopping there.

Free said that in a few months, another $3 million project to construct new labs for the pharmacy program, which is relocating from downtown Hartford’s XL Center to the school’s main West Hartford campus, is set to begin.

The project is expected to be completed by next summer.