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CT Construction Digest Thursday 25, 2020

New Britain receives nearly $3 million for street, sidewalk, other improvements
Ciara Hooks
NEW BRITAIN – Mayor Erin Stewart announced Wednesday the city has received $2.97 million from Connecticut Department of Transportation through the Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program.
The $2,976,000 will be used for Phase VIII work of the city’s Complete Streets Masterplan. Phase VIII involves making roadway improvements to areas of Chestnut Street, Columbus Boulevard and Washington Street, which are all major gateways into downtown. These roads, however, present challenging pedestrian and bicycle environments with high traffic volumes, high speeds, long intersection crossing distances and the lack of other pedestrian needs, so many of these issues will be addressed during this phase.
The new improvements include the paving of the roadways, adding traffic calming measures such as the reduction of travel lanes in some areas, new drainage, granite curbing, the addition of new brick paver sidewalks where they currently don’t exist (such as the north side of Columbus Boulevard), the replacement of deteriorated sidewalks, ADA upgrades and new vegetative landscaping.
“This project builds on our work to create more transit oriented development opportunities by increasing access to underutilized land and builds upon other recently completed investments such as the Beehive Bridge and the other downtown complete streets phases,” Stewart said.
The city will be replacing the traffic signal at the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and Chestnut Street and it will be tied into the city’s new centrally-controlled coordinated signal system that allows for remote changes to maximize traffic operations.
The Washington Street bridge crossing over Route 72 will have the sidewalks reconstructed and the bridge rail will be removed and replaced with a new decorative rail to match adjacent projects recently constructed. In addition, there is a proposal for a multi-use trail on the north side of Columbus Boulevard, which requires taking approximately 10,000 square feet of state owned property along Route 72. The trail will end on Main Street south of the Beehive Bridge and is envisioned to be part of a 4.5 mile gap closure to connect with the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.
“The work will also increase pedestrian access to and from the downtown CTfastrak station,” Stewart said.
The city is looking to start construction beginning in 2021 as the design phase for the work is just getting underway.
“I’d like to personally thank Commissioner Joseph Giulietti and the Connecticut Department of Transportation for their support of this project,” Stewart said. “It is important to note that the grant funds 100 percent of the project and there is no city match required.”

Demolition of New London’s Crystal Avenue high-rises on the horizon
Greg Smith
New London — An environmental consultant is preparing cost estimates for the demolition of the vacant high-rise apartment buildings on Crystal Avenue, a precursor to the cleanup and marketing of the long-troubled site.
Consulting firm Tighe & Bond finished up an environmental assessment of the former Thames River Apartments earlier this month. Renaissance City Development Association Executive Director Peter Davis said that while there are known pollutants on site, such as asbestos, PCBs and lead, the samples tested were below the threshold that would have required the federal Environmental Protection Agency to get involved.
“They didn’t find anything that surprised them,” he said.
It means that on the regulatory side, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be the agency involved in ensuring upcoming remediation work is compliant with environmental regulations.
Tighe & Bond is now compiling its findings to be used in a request for proposals for demolition of the buildings and remediation of hazardous materials. Davis said there is an urgency to the matter, since the vacant former apartment complex remains a liability the city wants removed as quickly as possible. The timeline remains unknown, though Mayor Michael Passero has expressed his desire to see the buildings gone by the end of the year.
The city bought the property for $185,000 from the New London Housing Authority in 2019 after a joint effort to move out the residents because of deteriorating conditions and a long-pending lawsuit calling for action. The 124 units were federally subsidized and housed very low-income families, the only such complex of its kind in the city. With approval and support from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the residents were issued Section 8 vouchers to seek private housing elsewhere. The last one moved out in August 2018.
The city gained a $2 million commitment from the state to fund the demolition and turn what was historically a tax-exempt property into a tax generator. The city has rezoned the site for commercial and industrial use. At one point the city had courted the Connecticut Port Authority for use of the 12-acre site property, but the port authority never agreed to pay taxes.
The parking lot of the Crystal Avenue high-rises, meanwhile, is expected to once again become the home for a fleet of buses servicing the New London School District. The city is working out an agreement with the schools to allow First Student to move in as early as Aug. 1.
Felix Reyes, the director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the city continued to work with the school district to find a cost-effective, long-term solution to housing the buses in the city.
Other options are being explored, such as creating a bus terminal on city grounds or leasing from a private entity. Both options are cost-prohibitive for the school district, he said.
“Keeping them at the high-rises buys us a bit of time to do more long-term planning to put them in a permanent location,” Reyes said. “This provides an almost zero cost solution. It’s a way to work together and save taxpayers and the Board of Education a significant amount of money.”
The buses were parked at the high school but construction work is expected to start there this summer.
Reyes said the city is earning tax revenue with the buses being registered in the city, and that is one reason, among others, to keep them in New London.
“At some point they will have to move somewhere else ... and not continue to play musical chairs,” he said.

Even at higher cost, East Lyme police station plan makes sense
The Day Editorial Board            
We’re glad to hear East Lyme will hold a referendum to seek voter approval to bond an added $2.17 million to properly renovate the former Honeywell building as the new home for the town's police department.
In February 2019, voters overwhelmingly approved $5 million to buy the building at 277 West Main St. and undertake the necessary renovations. A subsequent architectural assessment, however, cast serious doubts on the feasibility of getting the job done at that cost. Debate over the handling of the plan got wrapped into the 2019 election, in which Republican First Selectman Mark Nickerson was facing re-election. He won.
A town meeting could have technically sufficed to act on the additional allocation, but that is impractical given the continuing need to social distance during the ongoing pandemic. The Board of Selectmen could have used the pandemic, and the governor’s executive orders, to skip a vote altogether. But given the questions and controversies — and the importance of this project — it is only right to bring it to a town-wide vote.
Nickerson expects a vote to take place toward the end of July. Doing it safely will be a challenge. We urge the widespread use of mail-in ballots such as Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is proposing for the Aug. 11 primary and the general election.
The police station plan is still a good one, even with the added costs. The current Main Street station used by police is in deplorable condition and far below the standards expected of a modern public safety building. Building a new station could cost $12 million or more. And starting the process over would delay the opening of a new police station for years. Town discussions and debates over how to properly house their police go back to the mid-1980s.
Some of the increase in cost is due to amenities not included in the original $5 million project presented to voters and some results because the original estimate was unrealistic.
An elevator will be installed now, during renovations, which makes sense from a cost and planning perspective. That will open the second floor to other town uses, not yet defined. The renovated building will have a sally port and holding cells. To keep construction costs down, the town could keep contracting with Waterford for the use of its cells. But it makes no sense to open a new police station without a place to hold suspects, and it never did.
A Public Safety Building Vision Committee set aside politics in carefully evaluating the project and producing the recommendations for supplying a fully functional police facility and getting necessary renovations done now.
The renovated building will also house the fire marshal’s office and dispatch services.
Some skepticism among the townspeople is understandable. After all, they approved a project at one price and are now being asked to ante up more.
Nickerson only fed that skepticism in sticking to his position that the project could be built as planned, even when the architectural estimates provided after the referendum showed it could not, at least not if the town wanted to do it right.
“It will be done on budget. I’m very confident in that,” Nickerson said when asked about the potential price tag during his October debate with Democratic challenger Camille Alberti.
That was the political answer. A forthright answer would have been an assurance that the administration would do its best to stay within the amount approved by voters, while conceding that it might not be possible given updated estimates.
The first selectman’s insistence then that the project would stay within budget contributes to the bait-and-switch feeling among some townspeople.
Still, Nickerson led the effort to finally get local police a facility they deserve and, even with these additional costs, it is a fiscally sound project that voters should again back.