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CT Construction Digest Thursday August 12, 2021

$50 million renovation project officially breaks ground at Chamberlain Elementary School

Erica Drzewiecki

NEW BRITAIN – A $50 million renovation project has officially broken ground at Chamberlain Elementary School.

Construction manager Newfield Construction and architect Kaestle-Boos met with city officials Wednesday to tour the school, where site work and demolition for the renovate-as-new project began this summer.

New Britain benefitted from a state package last fall that ensures funding reimbursement of 95% for this project, through the state’s school construction grant program.

“It’s an 18-month project with completion expected in December 2022,” Newfield Senior Project Manager Matt Glaser said.

The building’s footprint will increase by about 17,000 sq. ft. to an estimated 107,000 sq. ft. on the 8-acre property, but will certainly not encroach on the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, officials said, one of the project goals is to improve accessibility and ease traffic congestion around the school, which abuts Newington Ave., Chapman St., Sunset Ave. and Market St.

“One of the problems with Chamberlain is the site layout is not ideal,” Mayor Erin Stewart said. “There are issues with parking and school buses blocking the street.”

Chamberlain School was built in 1951, two decades before New Britain bussed kids to and from school.

“These were all walking schools up until 1972,” said Director of City Support Services Paul Salina, who had a long career with New Britain Schools. “Now every time we renovate a school we’re very conscious of school bus entry and exit-ways and parent drop-off areas.”

Once the renovations at Chamberlain School are completed, there will be designated parking areas on both sides to relieve traffic congestion on perimeter roads.

Chamberlain’s 500 students finished off the 2020-21 school year and will be starting school again this fall at the former Pope John Paul School II on Farmington Avenue for the two-year duration of construction.

Chamberlain is set to reopen in fall of 2023.

There are 10 elementary schools in the Consolidated School District of New Britain (CSDNB) and the most recent to receive upgrades were Lincoln, Gaffney and DiLoreto, according to School Building Committee Chairman Tim Stewart. This concluded the district’s2020 School Renovation Plan.

“There has not been a long-term vision for school renovations since then,” said Stewart, who has asked the district to come up with a cohesive road map of projects moving forward.

City Alderman Robert Smedley was another driving force in identifying the need for improvements at Chamberlain. He estimated that energy efficiency upgrades will render significant savings in utility costs, at 20% or more.

Among the planned renovations and upgrades are a new roof, family resource and health center as well as a dedicated wing for deaf and hard-of-hearing students throughout the district.

Handicapped-accessibility is another priority and all restrooms, doorways and other areas will be brought up to code.

'Words don't do it justice': $87M Middletown middle school nears completion

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — Construction crews were at the site of the new $87.3 million Beman Middle School Tuesday morning, clearing debris and rubble from the demolished Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

The sprawling, state-of-the-art, energy-efficient facility is set to open next month, complete with an innovation lab, solar arrays, a large gymnasium and other components.

“Inside, it’s absolutely stunning,” said Middletown Common Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera, co-chairman of the Woodrow Wilson/Keigwin Building Committee.

New furniture and technology will be in place by the Sept. 9 opening of the fall semester.

The years-long effort to erect the new building has been quite involved, Nocera said. “So many pieces need our attention,” he said.

The delivery of some items needed at the 1 Wilderman’s Way site were delayed due to the pandemic, including steel beams, and elements of the auditorium, but the project has remained on schedule and below budget from the beginning, the councilman has said.

“It hit our supply chain pretty hard. It was very worrisome at the get-go when all the bids went out and we saw these vague promises,” Nocera said.

Also, demo work was held up for three weeks recently due to labor issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak, he added.

The auditorium is expected to be ready by mid-October. Crews will be conducting work during the late afternoon and evening so as to not disturb students.

Lockers, which are expected to be delivered Sept. 1, will also be installed later.

The new school is predicted to be more energy efficient by some 28.5 percent compared with other similar sized buildings, TSKP architect Michael Scott has said. Work includes installation of rooftop photovoltaics, with 14 areas that could generate enough electricity to power 30 homes. That will offset 179 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the architect has said.

O&G Industries Project Manager Joe Vetro recently told committee members the innovation lab ceiling grid is being constructed, and mechanical and electrical items will be installed this week, according to the July 26 minutes.

Everything but the gym, auxiliary gym and pool was demolished. Those three will form the community recreation center, where staff will move in later this year.

Groups of classroom walls will be painted in hues of three “bright, enthusiastic” colors: orange, blue and green. Most new school construction follows similar patterns, Nocera said. Rugs and tiles will also match the theme.

The orange-and-black school colors are incorporated throughout the building, in community spaces, such as the auditorium, gym, main office and music areas; as well as the locker rooms.

“I think it looks spectacular. Words don’t do it justice,” the councilman said.

Three new buildings proposed on Shelton's Bridgeport Ave.

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON - Owners of a Bridgeport Avenue property - already home to a building leased by PerkinElmer and Gary Plastic Packaging Corp. - have plans to construct three other buildings on the site.

The company AA Shelton LLC is seeking a Planned Development District approval for 710 Bridgeport Ave., with the goal of constructing three separate buildings.

One 17,680-square-foot building would be for light industrial, office or warehouse uses on a 4.5-acre section at the rear of the site. The other two buildings would house restaurants and be located on 8 acres in the front of the property - one 8,000 square feet, the other 4,000 square feet with a drive thru.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on this application next month, but no formal date has been set.

The application states that additional parking for the existing uses will be constructed near the office and light industrial uses.

According to the application, “The development can be performed in phases and the property divided into separate parcels provided reciprocal easements for access and utilities and maintenance agreements for the entire parcel are in place.”

The application further states that the parcel could be subdivided to create separate ownership of the proposed use areas, subject to the approval of a subdivision plan.

This move comes after the commission denied a zone change request last year for the property that would have allowed the construction of 272 apartments.

That plan had called for four buildings and 272 units with 10 percent of the units, 27 total, listed as affordable housing. The structure where PerkinElmer is located was to remain, with the four buildings built in the current parking area.

The commission cited concerns about the project’s density, with residential and industrial uses mixed on the site, and an increased traffic burden on Bridgeport Avenue.

The proposed development would also be inconsistent with the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development and, if approved, would hurt ongoing downtown development, the commissioners said.

It was in February that, with commission approval, Gary Plastic Packaging Corp. announced it would move its operations from Bronx, N.Y., to occupy 207,000 square feet of the structure for manufacturing, office, warehouse and distribution services.

Equipment Manufacturers, Associations Hail Senate Passage of Historic Infrastructure Bill

The U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Aug. 10 by a wide bipartisan majority vote, 69-30. Nineteen republicans joined all 50 democrats in passing the bill, which now will head to the House, though that chamber may not take up the bill until fall, after its August recess. Construction industry associations are lauding the milestone legislation, which will, if passed by the House, allocate $1.2 trillion for roads, bridges, rail, transit and the electric grid.

Here are the statements released by industry associations so far:


"Equipment manufacturers commend the U.S. Senate for passing a bold and bipartisan bill that will make a transformational investment in our nation's infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will create nearly 500,000 new manufacturing jobs over the next three years, including more than 100,000 high-skilled, family-sustaining jobs in the equipment manufacturing industry. Investing in our infrastructure will also help us respond to our biggest challenges in ways that improve the quality of life for all Americans, reinforce our global economic standing, and protect our planet," said Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) senior vice president of government and industry relations Kip Eideberg.

"We applaud the steadfast leadership and bipartisan work of the Senate negotiators and committees to reach agreement through a collaborative and transparent process. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Rob Portman worked tirelessly to steer the bill through the Senate and overcome a myriad of obstacles, and we are grateful for their dogged focus on bipartisanship. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is not only a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our nation's infrastructure, but an opportunity to restore our economic competitiveness, enhance equipment manufacturers' ability to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, and improve the lives of all Americans. We urge the House of Representatives to put policy ahead of politics and pass this bill as soon as possible.

"For years, equipment manufacturers have the led the charge for a historic investment in our nation's core infrastructure needs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act not only reflects many of our industry's policy priorities but is also proof that members of both parties can work together for the benefit of all Americans."


"AED commends the U.S. Senate's approval of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. For years, AED has advocated for Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure, and we're now one step closer to making it a reality. Not only does the bill fund vital projects across the country, but it also includes a five-year surface transportation reauthorization that will provide long-term certainty for contractors and other AED member customers. All without onerous tax increases on America's job creators," said AED's President and CEO Brian P. McGuire.

"I now call on the U.S. House of Representatives to immediately take up and pass the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, sending it to President Biden for his signature. The equipment industry is more than ready to help rebuild this country, creating economic growth, well-paying jobs and putting the United States on the path to future prosperity. Further delay is unacceptable."


"The new infrastructure measure passed by the Senate today provides much-needed new federal investments in a wide range of infrastructure projects. These investments will help generate new demand for construction services, equipment, and materials. More important, the new investments will create high-paying construction career opportunities and help make our economy more efficient and competitive," said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America.

"Unfortunately, some members of the House want to delay action on the bipartisan measure until passing an unrelated, partisan, spending bill. The last thing Washington should do is hold a much-needed, bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage to partisan politics. Delaying action on the infrastructure measure will hurt the economy and deny workers opportunities to start high-paying construction careers. It is time to put people back to work instead of paying them to stay home. That is why we are urging the House to quickly pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and send it to the President for signature."


"The strong bipartisan spirit demonstrated in the Senate approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act sets the bar high," said American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Dave Bauer.

"The U.S. economy and transportation system users stand to benefit most from enactment of an infrastructure bill that combines historic investment levels with pragmatic policy reforms.

"The Senate vote is a much-needed step, but not the finish line.

"We will continue to work with the House, Senate and the Biden administration to help achieve an outcome that addresses America's transportation infrastructure needs today and in the future."


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) applauds the U.S. Senate for passing the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), proving once again that the strength and reliability of our nation's infrastructure systems is an issue that unites us all.

With this legislation, the federal government will restore their critical partnership with cities and states to modernize our nation's infrastructure, including transit systems, drinking water pipes, school facilities, broadband, ports, airports and more.

We commend the Senate for prioritizing American communities by passing this bipartisan infrastructure legislation and urge the U.S. House of Representatives to do the same.


"This bipartisan bill represents a giant step forward in bringing greater access and mobility to the American public, brings our highways and roads to good condition, sparks ongoing innovation in the asphalt pavement industry, and secures good-paying jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers, not to mention improves their safety while on the job," said Audrey Copeland, NAPA's president and CEO.

"NAPA thanks the President and the Senate, especially those negotiating in good faith on behalf of the American people to pass a bipartisan infrastructure funding bill in a timely manner, enabling much-needed construction and maintenance for America's critical highways, roads, and bridges," said James Winford, NAPA 2020-21 chairman.


"The USW commends the bipartisan work of the U.S. Senate in passing a badly needed infrastructure bill. Our nation's critical infrastructure is long past due for significant upgrades, and this bill is an important step toward both making our communities more secure and creating millions of good, family-sustaining jobs," said United Steelworkers (USW) International President Tom Conway.

"USW members from across every corner of our union already provide the essential building blocks of a modern infrastructure, from the steel that goes into our bridges, to the pipes that carry our water, to the fiber optic glass that keeps us connected and much more.

"A comprehensive infrastructure investment that draws on the goods and services American workers supply will promote widespread job growth and economic opportunity. USW members and their families will further benefit from this investment as their workplaces and communities become safer and more efficient.

"As this bill moves to the U.S. House, we cannot let the momentum falter. We urge Congress to continue working together in overhauling both our physical and social infrastructures until they finally meet our modern needs."

5 roadblocks that could slow construction's recovery

Barry B. LePatner

If the construction industry overcomes these challenges, it will reap decades of unparalleled growth, writes construction attorney Barry B. LePatner.

New York City-based attorney Barry B. LePatner is the CEO of business advisory firm Insights+ and a nationally recognized construction advisor to corporate, commercial and real estate developers and lenders. Opinions are the author's own.

The nation's construction industry, coupled with professional architects and engineers, play a significant role in the economic wellbeing of the U.S. economy. According to Federal Reserve Bank statistics, construction accounted for 4.3% of our GDP over the past 12 months. Despite the slowdown in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, contractors are poised to embark on several decades of unparalleled growth.

The pandemic clearly delayed or halted significant construction work. Most of these delayed projects will go forward as the economy reopens in the balance of this year. Additionally, as evidenced by the reports flowing from Florida arising from the structural collapse of the Champlain Towers condominium, there is an enormous need in our nation to remediate tens of millions of square feet of our built environment since the average age of U.S. commercial buildings is nearly 53 years old

In the decades ahead, many of these buildings will receive substantial overhauls or will be demolished or replaced by billions of square feet of new construction. Add to this the likelihood of a multimillion-dollar infrastructure initiative that is being pushed forward by the Biden administration and it is easy to see why the design and construction world should see brighter days ahead. 

However, confronting these rosy predictions are significant roadblocks that threaten to impede the customary benefits of a protracted period of growth. The top challenges are:

Weak pricing: While the construction market slowly makes its way back to pre-pandemic levels, construction companies continue to show a traditional proclivity of taking on work at or below cost merely to keep their workers employed. By choosing to adopt this strategy — which strangles needed cash flow — the industry risks carrying low profits into 2022 and beyond, inevitably delaying a recovery for a year or two even as the overall market heats up. 

Skilled worker shortage: Widespread labor shortages in skilled trades have been bedeviling the industry for several years. According to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and a forecast of anticipated construction growth in 2021 by economic consulting firm Markstein Advisors, the construction industry will require an additional 430,000 new workers to meet demand in 2021 than were employed in 2020. 

The industry has failed in recent years to find ways to attract new workers or set up incentives to train new apprentices for trades in dire need of new personnel for a variety of high-paying jobs. If construction spending accelerates at a higher growth rate due to pent-up demands in the post-COVID era, that figure could be closer to 1 million. Without meeting these shortages and reaching out across the nation to develop a new generation of workers, the industry will fail to satisfy increasing new demands for the rest of the decade and beyond.

Increased materials costs: Prices for many building materials have risen dramatically since the pandemic started. From April 2020 to February 2021 the cost of contractors' purchases of goods and equipment soared nearly 13%. According to the Association of General Contractors, during that same period the cost for other materials rose at even greater rates, including: 

Diesel fuel: 114%.

Lumber and plywood: 62%.

The copper and brass mill index: 37%. 

Steel mill products: 20%. 

Lumber costs for housing have soared into triple digits but are showing a steady decline that is likely to continue for the balance of the year. Finding new resources or merely passing these increases onto the owners, both public and private, has not been an easy task for the industry.

Supply chain issues: Before the pandemic, as much as 30% of all materials and products utilized on many projects were purchased abroad. When the pandemic struck, shipments of overseas products came to a virtual halt due to lockouts of workers from ports across the globe, shutdowns of supply routes as well as a shortage of container ships. The result of more than two decades of seeking out cheaper labor costs across the globe overseas, the pandemic seriously impaired the ability to source these materials, creating a severe dent in the supply chain that is so critical to the timely construction of U.S. projects. 

Many manufacturers who benefited from cheap labor sourcing overseas intend to build new factories in the United States. When complete over the next few years, our domestic supply chain will be more reliable, but product costs will likely rise at least 20% over existing prices.

Technology hesitancy: Contractors are the slowest adaptors of advanced technology of any industry in the world. This is notable since the performance output of construction workers is woeful, costing public and private owners that must pay for this inefficiency. 

The industry's low profitability, from 1%-4% annually, means that most firms have been unable to allocate funds to invest significantly in the hardware, software and training to upgrade productivity advances. This impediment, as much as any other factor, may not see improvement until a new generation of leadership takes the reins over the next 10 years. 

The United States is on the cusp of a new and sorely needed construction boom. It is ours for the taking if only we are willing to make the necessary choices and investments to get us there.