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CT Construction Digest Thursday July 21, 2022

Greenwich High entryway bids arrive $1.3M over budget. ‘Excessively high’ costs shock school officials.

Annelise Hanshaw

GREENWICH — The Greenwich High School vestibule project’s building committee expected construction bids to hit just above the $2.7 million budget, board of education and building committee member Christina Downey said.

But when members of the committee opened two bids from what Downey described as ‘reputable’ companies Tuesday, they were surprised to see both construction companies charging around $4 million.

“It seems to not fall into what is a standard price for this type of construction project or size of construction project,” Steve Walko, chair of the building committee, said. “The bids that came in seem excessively high.”

“I think everybody (on the building committee) was surprised. I think our architect was surprised,” Downey said.

“We're going to try to do some background research to figure out what the basis for (the expense) is. Whether it's just the market right now, we just don't have enough information,” she said. “Is it because the materials are so expensive? Is it labor cost? We're just going to try to drill down and get better information.”

The steep diversion from budget will cost time, for any extra expenses must pass Greenwich’s Board of Education, Board of Estimate and Taxation and Representative Town Meeting before the committee can hire a construction company.

Since the first regular RTM meeting after the summer break is Sept. 19, Greenwich High School students will begin the school year Sept. 1 through the same entryway they left in June.

The building committee said it had hoped to complete demolition and make progress on the entryway before the beginning of the school year.

Walko mentioned that the Board of Education could delay construction a year in hopes the market would improve, but he said in the meantime, the committee would be gathering information on other options.

The Board of Education could also re-define the education specifications, which provide the building committee and architect with the project’s needs, Downey said. But she doesn’t see much opportunity to value-engineer the current design within the $2.7 million budget.

“Technically, everything is on the table right now,” Walko said in regard to a potential action plan.

“We’re getting information about where this project is relative to its cost and how to look at it from alternative ways, whether that means additional pricing, whether that means a relook at the design, a sort of total redesign. I don't think it necessarily means value engineering, but it could mean a combination of all of those things,” he said.

The committee will look at the expenses of materials specified in the vestibule’s design, like the ballistic glass that covers the façade. It could find alternative materials if architects planned for finishes that are extraordinarily expensive right now, he said.

“Everyone is looking to make sure that tax dollars are spent wisely and so taking a deeper look into why we are where we are is absolutely critical,” Walko said.

The opportunity to bid opened June 27, and the building committee gave companies until July 12 to submit their bids. The deadline stretched to July 19 after a potential bidder asked for an extension because of “the short bid period and the fact that there is a holiday in the middle of it.”

A short bidding period can result in inflated prices if companies don’t have adequate time to review the documents prepared by the architect, officials said.

The vestibule project’s project manual, which companies use to craft a bid, is 1,284 pages long. It includes general instructions, details for construction finishes, site plans, other architectural drawings and pictures.

Walko and Downey said they didn’t think the more-than-expected costs were caused by the length of the bid period.

The upcoming bid process for Central Middle School may have stopped interested parties from bidding the entryway project to keep their schedule open, Downey mused.

The committee also received bids in a separate solicitation for an owner’s representative who acts as a manager between the district and the hired contractors.

The owner’s representative costs, which are charged hourly in this project, would add to the expense if the committee chooses to hire one.

Once the building committee has gathered information, the Board of Education will review its options in a special meeting, Downey said. She said she anticipates it will be added to the next special meeting where members look at the Central Middle School educational specifications.

She also said she doesn’t think the vestibule project’s approximately $4 million price tag will affect the plans for Central Middle School, though it would give the board an idea of costs, she said.

The Board of Education could discuss options in a special meeting as soon as next week.

Ansonia Police garage suffering from structural issues

Eddy Martinez

ANSONIA — It’s been nearly a year since the members of the Ansonia Police Department moved to their new headquarters on Main Street.

Nearly everything about the station is a step up from the old one, except for the parking situation.

While the station has a garage for police cars, Chief of Police Wayne Williams said officers have to park their cars on the street.

“Our police vehicles are parked on East Main Street,” Williams said.

The police station garage has gone unused since the station first opened in the fall of 2021. According to city officials, the garage is currently unusable due to structural issues. The city’s Board of Aldermen voted on July 12 to approve a $846,333 bid to Frank Capasso and Sons Inc. to repair the garage. The garage should be ready for use by next year, according to Tener Contracting, which had been hired to oversee repairs.

The aldermen voted to approve the bid which was added later to the agenda with 11 voting yes with one abstention vote recorded for Alderman Steven Adamowski. Economic Development and Community Director Sheila O’Malley said the garage bid was higher than the amount originally set aside for the repairs. The city initially estimated the repairs to be at $750,000. The previous bidder, she said, didn’t have experience with garage repair.

She said the contractor will be tasked with repairing the parking deck in the garage. Corporation Counsel John Marini said water had damaged the garage floor and it needed to be replaced.

Paul Sekas, an engineer for Tener Contracting, said the garage has other issues.

“We’re looking at about 180 days for total completion once Frank Capasso and Sons mobilizes. And then we’ll be working through to repair the concrete,” Sekas said.

But while construction is planned to go ahead, Ansonia police have been forced to park their cars on East Main Street. However, Williams said the cars are safe since the area is monitored by cameras and extra lights. The police also use the lot by Massimino’s Pizzeria on occasion.

While Adamowski abstained from voting, he said he was supportive of the repairs.

“I am very supportive of the repairs and painting of the garage floor as addressed by the accepted bid... Since I have been on the BOA, I have made it a practice not to vote on items that were late additions to the agenda. My abstention should not be interpreted as disagreement with the work or the contractor selected,” Adamowski said.

Sekas said the garage, when finished, will be open for the police and the senior center.

“It’ll free up parking on East Main Street for the apartments that are going in. So I think it's a nice balance of shuffling things around. And finally, giving the PD what they deserve, “ Sekas said.

Developers see market for upscale rental housing in Granby and Bloomfield

Don Stacom

After a better-than-expected experience with marketing a large apartment complex in Granby, developers Reggie Kronstadt, Bard Kligerman and Robert Kligerman are putting up 165 rental homes in Granby and Bloomfield — with another 150 or so planned.

At a time when some single-family home builders are caught between high construction prices and rising interest rates, Kronstadt and his partners believe they have found a niche that’s financially solid: Rental duplexes and townhouses aimed at young families and empty-nesters.

“We’ve realized this area is so under-supplied for high-quality Class A housing,” Kronstadt said Tuesday. “Our big focus now is single-family rental space: SFR. We’re really focused on building larger unit configuration rental houses.

“Our average homes in Granby are about 1,800 to 1,900 feet, they’re all three- and four-bedrooms. That’s what we’re going all-in on now,” Kronstadt said.

Until a few years ago, Kronstadt’s Krown Point Capital wasn’t known in Connecticut. But that changed when he partnered with the Kligermans, principals in Connecticut Realty Trust, to buy The Grand, a new but struggling 130-unit apartment complex in Granby.

“When COVID hit, leasing stalled. It was 45% leased. We basically rebranded it and closed on it two years ago,” Kronstadt said Tuesday.

“We’d never done anything in Granby or Hartford County before. It was a one-off. We thought it would take 18 months to lease, it took eight months. We’ve been 100% leased for a year.”

That success put Kronstadt and the Kligermans on a construction campaign in central Connecticut that shows no signs of letting up, despite a year of viciously high construction costs and rising interest rates.

They are building 75 units on Murtha’s Way in Granby and expect the initial ones will be ready for occupancy in August. In Bloomfield, they took over a long-stalled plan to build traditional one-family houses and instead are putting up 90 townhouses and attached duplexes.

“The demand for larger units is stronger than ever. The whole work-from-home phenomenon means people want the extra bedroom for the home office,” Kronstadt said.

“People want more space nowadays. When you’re not going to the office every day, that whole live-work-play phenomenon of your home changes entirely. Everyone wants more space than traditional apartments,” he said.

Most of the partnership’s new projects are two- and three-bedroom units. But Krown Point and Connecticut Realty Trust are trying out a few four-bedroom units in their new construction, believing that young families and empty-nesters will be eager for them.

“Even if it’s a higher price point, they want the extra bedroom, they want the privacy of a home, they want a private garage,” he said.

Like many developers introducing large-scale residential housing in the past few years, the plans are heavy on amenities. Part of the new Granby project is centered around a swimming pool and clubhouse with outdoor fire pits; another section has more fire pits, a dog park and bocce courts.

Robert Kligerman said a key feature of the Granby project is the location: “It’s minutes to required household goods and services, yet in a country setting which feels a world apart.”

Large rental units offer tenants the “actual and emotional benefits of luxury home ownership,” he said, but without the upfront investment or the maintenance demands.

Bard Kligerman noted that 25% of the new Granby apartments were pre-leased even before a model was available to show.

“Single-family rentals are one of the fastest-growing real estate sectors across the country, but has been lacking in the Northeast,” he said.

Project Manager Perry Gold is directing a team of 75 subcontractors and trades workers at the Granby site. The Bloomfield project is expected to break ground early next year, and Kronstadt said another one — in a central Connecticut community that he won’t name yet — should bring another 120 to 160 units.

Federal Reserve report signals slowing construction demand

Joe Bousquin

Some construction activity has begun to slow in various regions around the country as commodity pricing, building permit applications and even calls for construction workers eased, according to the latest Beige Book reading, the Federal Reserve’s informal measure of economic activity.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, noted several aspects reflecting lower demand for construction, including nine of the 12 Fed districts reporting “noted moderation in prices for construction inputs such as lumber and steel,” in his latest Data DIGest report. 

In San Francisco, commercial real estate permits and construction slowed; in Dallas, there was less demand for construction workers, according to staffing agencies; in Kansas City, financing for multifamily construction tightened, leading to fewer projects starting in recent weeks.

The report comes as contractors have started to note cooling material prices, and after four of the 11 subcategories for construction inputs in the Producer Price Index eased last month. The emerging signs of slowing demand follow three interest rate hikes this year by the Fed, which is set to meet again July 26-27, when it is expected to raise rates another 0.75 percentage points in its battle to tame historic inflation.

The latest Beige Book could provide reasons to take a softer stance, however, “as several districts reported growing signs of a slowdown in demand, and contacts in five districts noted concerns over an increased risk of a recession.” The Fed has been trying to pull off a “soft landing” of the economy by tightening monetary policy without plunging it into recession.

But there were plenty of other reasons for the Fed to continue its hawkish, rate-raising campaign, including the Consumer Price Index, which rose in June at an annual rate of 9.1%, the highest level since 1981. According to a note written after the Beige Book’s release, financial services firm UBS said, “the Fed will need much more substantial evidence that inflationary pressure is easing before they consider lifting their foot off the brake pedal.”

After months of debate, Hartford trash-burning plant now officially closed

Patrick Skahill 

After decades of burning garbage, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority said Wednesday it has officially shut down its trash incinerator in Hartford.

Leadership at the company said combustion of garbage at its South Meadows facility ceased at 1:56 a.m. Tuesday, July 19.

The announcement follows months of debate about the state-owned facility’s future, which came in the wake of a rejected redevelopment plan, mechanical breakdowns, and falling energy prices.

MIRA President and CEO Tom Kirk told Connecticut Public last week that prices for the power produced by burning garbage at South Meadows fell by about 70 percent, making it “a little bit cheaper” for towns to send their waste to out-of-state landfills.

MIRA saw a large share of its member towns opt-out of contracts with the agency in recent months, choosing to send their trash to private haulers.

For member towns that are still contracted with MIRA, garbage that would have gone to South Meadows will now be sent to transfer stations in Torrington and Essex – those are temporary spots for garbage.

MIRA will continue to operate peaking power generators at the site until May of next year and is now turning its attention to decommissioning the South Meadows site, Kirk said via email Wednesday.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said it is working to reduce the amount of state trash that will be sent to out-of-state landfills as a result of MIRA’s closure.

The agency said it is partnering with dozens of towns to explore alternative disposal options, including waste reduction and food waste recycling.

$6.3M park set to begin construction in Waterbury in October


WATERBURY — City officials expect construction of a park that will feature a Little League baseball field and concession stand with bathrooms on Mill Street to begin in October.

Officials said the project will continue the positive momentum they’ve created in the South End, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state, according to Connecticut Data Haven.

Dayton Construction Co. has been selected to build the facility at 313 Mill St., the site of a former factory building that burned to the ground in April 2012. The Board of Aldermen on Monday approved a $5.8 million contract with the Watertown-based firm.

The park, which carries a cost of $6.3 million funded by grants, also will feature a playscape, sitting area, scoreboard, bleachers, water fountain and lighting, a project rendering shows.

Alderman Victor Lopez on Wednesday said the project is a longtime coming for South End residents. He recounted a meeting several years ago when city officials heard about 90 community members voice what they’d like to see take the place of the dilapidated field.

“In unison, they said they felt we needed green space; we needed space for our kids to be able to play, to learn, to have outdoor space where they can be safely encouraged to be active within the community,” said Lopez, executive director of Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury. “To see it emerge to this point, it is really, really exciting to me, personally.”

After a massive fire knocked down the deserted Nova Dye factory building, the 4.8-acre property next to the Mad River became heavily contaminated. Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy distributed a $2 million grant for the city to clean up pollutants, but the cleanup left behind giant foundations.

Thomas Hyde, interim director of Waterbury Development Corp., on Wednesday stopped by 313 Mill St. Overlooking the site, overrun by weeds and trees, Hyde envisioned what the project will deliver to the neighborhood. His organization is overseeing the project.

Officials added the concession stand late in the design phase, Hyde noted. The stand will generate revenue for the city to maintain the field and help Little League officials buy gear, he said.

The project is expected to conclude by September 2023, Hyde said. That includes a four-month winter shutdown, but it could be shorter depending on weather severity and how quickly materials can be procured, he said.

“It is really hard in this environment to figure out what these schedules are going to be because there are so many uncertainties,” Hyde said.

Mayor Neil M. O’Leary called the project site complicated because it’s on one of the city’s many brownfields. The city continues to work closely with environmental experts and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, he said.

As the city’s former police chief, O’Leary helped transform a brownfield in the North End into a Little League field across the street from the Police Activities League on Division Street. Officials are modeling the Mill Street park off the Division Street complex, which also features a pavilion, concession stand and basketball courts, O’Leary said.

Next door to the site is the Brass City Regional Food Hub, which opened in May 2020 and soon will potentially add greenhouses and a market cafe. Down the road is the site of the former Anamet factory, an abandoned 17.4-acre industrial site that officials say they want to redevelop. Officials last week approved a $2.5 million contract with a demolition company to further the process.

“It is part of a massive investment into the South End from this administration,” O’Leary said of the Mill Street park project. “We are really happy to be able to bring this to the residents of the South End. It is a desert down there for recreation.”