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CT Construction Digest October 19, 2020

Pandemic adds new wrinkle to XL Center renovation plans

Matt Pilon  Renovating a 46-year-old arena is complicated enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added additional design wrinkles to a potentially $100 million overhaul of the XL Center in Hartford.

There’s no telling exactly how long the virus will be a factor limiting attendance at sporting events and concerts, but the Capital Regional Development Authority (CRDA), the XL’s overseer, has to work new elements into its ongoing efforts to revitalize the venue’s lower bowl and mechanical systems.

“Going into the future, we have to think about that,” CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth told board members Thursday.  “We have to screen people. We have to have different protocols with beverages and food -- how it’s moved, where it’s stored, how it’s sold, and how to move people through the building.”

The agency must also think about implications for gathering areas, like fanclub facilities, the amount of time it would take to screen crowds as they enter the venue, and whether such screens will be temporary or needed for years to come.

Those all add complexity to the design process and budget for the renovations, the scope of which will depend on whether the Bond Commission, led by Gov. Ned Lamont, approves the $60 million in funds authorized by lawmakers last year. XL received $40 million in 2017.

Freimuth said CRDA staff are preparing to bid out the next round of work in the building, which could begin around March, and involves upgrading mechanical and electrical systems, among other tasks.

“We buy what we can afford and if we’re out of money we leave some things on the table, and therein lies the trick on how best to proceed,” he said.

Another complicating factor for the XL (and any other public venue) that has intensified in recent years is the need for heightened security screening, due in part to concert mass shootings, such as the one in Las Vegas in 2017, and soccer stadium bomb threats in Europe.

“The security demands today are far different than they were when we first started this analysis,” Freimuth said. “The XL Center never foresaw that in 1974.”

Even just a few years ago, Freimuth had assumed that renovation elements like the building’s IT backbone or high-end luxury seating would be most important. Now, it’s arguably safety and security.

“Those two priorities have jumped ahead of the line,” he said.

Liese Klein  "I was newly married and I came home to my wife and said, ‘We have a great opportunity. But it was a good-news, bad-news story — the company was failing.’ ”

Bob Sullivan laughed as he told the story of his decision to become an owner of Standard Builders of Newington. Now president and CEO, Sullivan first decided to sign on with Standard as a project manager in 1987 and ended up helping turn the company around seven years later.

“Standard Builders had and still has a great reputation for how it treats its people, the quality of the work that it did and the quality of the clients. We had to reinvent ourselves,” Sullivan said. “As a young engineer, I took on that challenge.”

A UConn graduate with an engineering and mathematics degree, Sullivan had worked for Pratt & Whitney for nine years prior to joining Standard, internalizing the aerospace giant’s “culture of improvement.” He decided to look for new opportunities when he was asked to take a job that required extensive travel.

“They had a great foundation and client base,” Sullivan said of Standard Builders.

What the company didn’t have was an analytic approach to seeking new business in the midst of a national economic slowdown; traditional markets for new construction in sectors like insurance, banking and defense had slowed dramatically.

Sullivan applied his engineering skills to the problem with the support of the company’s senior leadership. Investments in training and technology helped raise the firm’s profile and attract new business.

“I learned by fire — trial and error,” Sullivan said.

The firm soon secured new projects across New England at hospitals, universities and major retail centers.

“Getting into the healthcare market was a huge deciding factor for us … that helped us expand our client base,” he said.

Current and past clients include UConn Health, Hartford Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital.

Standard Builders now specializes in building and renovating clinical and educational facilities and managing complex projects like the construction of the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods.

That retail complex alone required specialized work with utilities, foundations, bridges and integration with the casino structure.

A $60-million company, Standard currently employs 200 people and handles projects valued at up to $100 million in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Further opportunities may await the builder as healthcare and higher-education institutions contemplate retrofitting their facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re rebuilding their infrastructure and that’s really our market,” Sullivan said.

In the process of leading Standard Builders, Sullivan said he is most proud of nurturing a strong crop of junior executives well placed to guide the company into the future. In one recent episode, a team managing the renovation of a hospital emergency room was forced to change course as the pandemic intensified.

Plainville skyline to change with construction of 12-story Stop & Shop warehouse

Don Stacom  Contractors in Plainville are building the foundation for a supermarket warehouse that will be one of the tallest buildings in central Connecticut outside of Hartford.

The 250,000-square-foot warehouse for frozen foods will serve Stop & Shop stores in New England and will rise 140 feet, or roughly 12 stories.

Ahold Delhaize USA, parent company of Stop & Shop, is promising 200 new jobs, even though the warehouse will be heavily automated.

“They will be the second biggest taxpayer in town when they open, and they’re guaranteeing at least 30 of the new jobs will go to Plainville people,” Town Manager Robert Lee said. “It’s going to be a very significant boost to our grand list.”

Even with a package of tax incentives, the warehouse will be paying about $850,000 a year in taxes when it opens in mid-2022, Lee said. And so far this year, it has generated more than $700,000 in building fees — about three times what the town collected from all other projects last year.

Workers are preparing to pour the foundation now and will begin erecting the complex array of racks and storage systems in late winter, town officials said. Americold, an Atlanta-based refrigerated warehouse builder, is constructing the building along with Ahold Delhaize USA.

“This will be just shy of 150 feet tall. It will dominate the skyline around there,” Town Engineer John Bossi said.

Some residents on the Plainville Talk page on Facebook have been questioning whether such a tall building is safe near Robertson Airport, where private planes fly in and out year round. The Federal Aviation Administration vetted the plans last year, town officials noted.

The warehouse is being built on vacant land in an industrial park along Northwest Drive, and the companies predict a little more than 100 tractor trailers a day will use it.

With operating hours from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m., that will average out to roughly one truck every 10 minutes, Lee said. He expects most will use Route 177 to reach the Route 72 connector to I-84.

Ahold Delhaize USA plans the Plainville center to serve Stop & Shop as well as its other supermarket brands in the Northeast. It is building a sister facility in Pennsylvania for its mid-Atlantic brands.

Based in the Netherlands, the company operates Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company and Hannaford stores as well as Stop & Shop. It runs nearly 2,000 stores in all across 23 states, and bills itself as the largest grocery retail group on the East Coast.

Noise, dust and fumes: Ansonia neighborhood group vies with construction business

Michael P. Mayko   ANSONIA — A cadre of Westwood Road residents claim the noise, dust and fumes generated by one of the city’s largest taxpayers is making their lives unlivable.

And residents of the city’s Westwood Road neighborhoods also say they believe that Burns Construction is violating city zoning laws by crushing rock on the company’s Woodlot site.

“Back in 2002, Peter Crabtree, who was the city’s zoning code enforcement, ruled it was illegal when Complete Construction owned the site,” said resident Leonard Marazzi.

Complete sold the 58-acre site to Burns last year.   Marazzi and neighbors Chris Rogers and Andrew Mark of the newly formed Westwood Association said the noise often begins early in the morning and continues throughout the day and sometimes on weekends.

The association has hired Kevin Curseaden, a Milford lawyer, in its fight against the business.

“The rock crushing operations has been denied a couple of times,” Curseaden said. “What I don’t understand is how it was allowed to come about now. This matter had previously gone through a public hearing, the permitting and appeals process and it was denied.”

Curseaden has sent two letters to David Blackwell Sr., the current zoning code enforcement officer, complaining about the business’s activity on the site “which he has yet to respond to.”

Barry Knott, a Stratford lawyer who represents Burns, said he is aware of the complaint but said Burns is complying with the city’s zoning, noise and contamination regulations.

“What Burns is doing is completely legal,” Knott said. “They are located in an industrial zone and that use is permitted. The zoning code enforcement officer, the town planner and the city attorney all agree that it is a permitted use.”

His remark was backed up by the city’s corporation counsel, John P. Marini, who said the city is aware of the complaint but agreed with Knott. Their rock-crushing operation is legal since the material is not being dug out of the ground on the Woodlot site. Instead it is being brought from other construction sites, Marini said.

“Rock-crushing activities are allowable on this industrially-zoned parcel and as part of a major construction business that brings jobs and tax revenue to the city of Ansonia and its residents,” Marini said. “The city has heard the concerns of its residents, and understands that Burns is taking steps to mitigate the impact of noise on the surrounding community.”

A public hearing on the complaint has been scheduled before the Board of Zoning Appeals during its 7 p.m. Monday meeting.

In preparation, the Westwood Association has filed photographs, video and a petition signed by more than 100 residents opposing Burns’s rock crushing to the ZBA in preparation for Monday’s meeting.

“I am happy to say that we were able to get almost every unit at Liberty Pines as well as (North End) residents who live on 4th Street and Star Street to sign the petition,” Marazzi said. “This rock-crushing operation affects people on both sides of the Naugatuck River.”

Newly opened Waterbury road, under the Mixmaster, could lead to more development

Michael Puffer  WATERBURY – Jackson Street had long been a little nub of a broken roadway jutting from Bank Street to a dead-end at a gravel depot used by a paving company.

It reopened Tuesday following a yearlong, multimillion-dollar construction project. Now, it stretches underneath the Mixmaster bridge, through Freight Street and on to intersect with West Main Street.

“I think that road could be pretty well traveled once people realize it’s there,” Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said Friday.

The extension of Jackson Street is meant to be much more than a convenient cut-through. It’s part of a $19.1 million upgrade of three roadways meant to draw development interest to roughly 70 acres of industrial and commercial land in the city’s center.

Guerrera Construction is putting the finishing touches to the extension of Jackson Street, which included upgrades to underground utilities along with reconstruction and extension of the roadway.

Guerrera is also rebuilding a section of Meadow Street under a $6.9 million contract with the city. Another contractor finished a reconstruction of Freight Street, including underground utilities, in 2018.

“It could entice all kinds of opportunities for economic development,” O’Leary said of the upgraded network of streets.

The transportation upgrades are part of a larger series of efforts the O’Leary administration has undertaken in the Freight Street corridor. The city has upgraded the parking and waiting area for its commuter trains. It partnered with other towns on the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad to convince the state to invest $70 million installing new signals and sidings on the commuter line, which will allow for more frequent runs. 

The city is also close to claiming and demolishing a derelict, 140,000-square-foot factory building on Freight Street. That will clear the way for environmental tests, cleanup and eventually, redevelopment.

O’Leary admits it could take years for all of these efforts to yield the sort of redevelopment he envisions. Past city administrations too often failed to take a long view, he said. It’s part of the reason much of the Freight Street corridor sits underused or abandoned, he said.

Businessman John DeFour owns three acres along Jackson Street. A portion of the land is leased to a construction company currently working on the Mixmaster for at least two more years. Still, DeFour said, the street project has undoubtedly increased the potential and value of area properties.

“Before we were at a dead end,” DeFour said. “Access was a huge problem. Now we have easy access coming in from Freight Street.”

Marcel Veronneau, owner of a 136,000-square-foot industrial building on Freight Street, remains frustrated by the city’s 2018 denial of a permit for a project he said was worth $26 million. He proposed to renovate his property into 100 luxury residential units. But the Zoning Commission found the plans lacked important details and worried about environmental contamination existing on site.

Still irritated, Veronneau agreed the administration’s efforts made the area more marketable – if only developers can cut through city bureaucracy.

“The mayor has done a good job on this project,” Veronneau said. “I just hope that these properties, when it comes up to do something, they look at it a little differently than they looked at the project I had.”

The speed of that development will depend on the city’s success pursuing a cleanup of an industrial site on Freight Street, as well as the larger business climate, Hill said.Tom Hill III, a prominent broker of industrial and commercial properties, said Jackson Street should help relieve long-standing congestion in the Meadow Street area. It’s enlargement, and improvements to Freight and Meadow streets, can yield results with the right follow-through, he said.

“It all depends on what real estate is available and how polluted they are,” Hill said.

Construction on Rochambeau Bridge may cause noise, vibrations for residents

Andrea Larson   SOUTHBURY — Residents near Interstate 84 may hear noise until 11 p.m. emanating from the Rochambeau Bridge, which is undergoing a $55 million rehabilitation starting next week.

Piledriving operations are underway to create supports for a temporary work platform between the eastbound and westbound sides of I-84. As the piles, or metal beams, are pounded into the ground, vibrations and noise will occur.

The current piledriving hours, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., will extend to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. starting Tuesday. The change will last for eight to 10 weeks on weekdays only. After that, the regular daytime schedule will resume. The state Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, will monitor noise using meters and vibrations using a seismograph.

“We realize this could be an inconvenience for some and therefore want to give advanced notice to the residents in the area,” said DOT Project Engineer Christopher Zukowski.

The Rochambeau Bridge consists of two bridges that carry about 80,000 drivers a day over the Housatonic River.

In September, the I-84 westbound section was shut down and traffic was rerouted onto the eastbound side using median crossovers. All four lanes of highway traffic are open.

The crossovers will be in place for about two years while the westbound bridge is partially demolished and reconstructed. Once the work is finished, eastbound traffic will be rerouted onto the newly rebuilt westbound side, and the process will be repeated on the eastbound bridge.

The project began June 15 and is set to be completed by December 2023. The state DOT’s contract for the work was awarded to Middlesex Corporation of Littleton, Mass.

For information about the project, visit RochambeauBridge.com for updates. A weekly newsletter is available.