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CT Construction Digest Thursday September 15, 2022

A new train station is coming to Windsor Locks. Here’s why the project is called one-of-a-kind.

Deidre Montague

Windsor Locks — The goal is to create jobs and enhance travel in the Hartford region, as well as across New England.

To accomplish that, a new train station will be built in Windsor Locks, with an expectation that it will be completed in 2025. It will be located in the downtown area of the town and next to the historic old station.

Gov. Ned Lamont joined state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe Giulietti, Amtrak Assistant Vice President of Infrastructure Access and Investment Tom Moritz, members of the Connecticut Building Trades, and other state officials to break ground on the new location.

Along with the new train station, there will be a roadway safety and track improvement project.

Moritz said that the new station and rail interlocking will enhance regional rail travel and improve rail connections throughout New England.

“When more people take the train the environmental benefits with cleaner air and less carbon emissions due to less cars on the road,” he said. “The local and regional economic benefits from riders and employees and employers who live, work and visit the area, and the families of railroad and construction workers that benefit as jobs are created from such projects.”

Moritz also said that the approval late last year of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represents the largest railroad infrastructure investment in U.S. history.

“We are working closely with Connecticut DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration to prioritize future investments, so as to improve the infrastructure and travel experiences that will benefit both Amtrak intercity service as well as Connecticut sponsored service on this line and on other lines in Connecticut,” he said. “It also represents improved mobility and opportunity throughout the region…it’s a thrilling time in the state of Connecticut and we’re thrilled to be here as part of it. We look forward to continuing to work on this and other projects in the area.”

Connecticut State Building Trades Council Executive Director Joseph P. Toner said that the project is one-of-a-kind for the council, the state Department of Correction and the Department of Transportation, when it comes to the jobs component.

“This … is a pilot program that we have … What we’re doing in the building trades with our partners is we’re going in and identifying folks that are incarcerated that are pre-release and available to be released within six months to a year,” Toner said. “At that time, the plan was before COVID. But we have a cohort going on right now…We go in with our instructors and we teach 120 hours of construction related courses to the folks that are incarcerated.”

“Upon release, those folks come in, they get indentured into our apprenticeship programs, where they have careers, not jobs, and we’re gonna give them an opportunity to make sure they prosper throughout their lifetime,” he said. “For the mistake that they made, they should not be punished for the rest of their life.”

Toner said the goal is “to make sure these folks are working on this job.”

“The program is actually written into the project labor agreement,” he said. “So it ensures that these folks that are returning citizens are going to have an opportunity to have a career in the building trades and make a livable wage, the job is going to go on for approximately two years.”

Toner said he also wants to make sure that the process in Windsor Locks happens across the state to make sure that great opportunities are provided for people returning home that were formerly incarcerated.

“Workforce development is always part of the project labor agreements, we make sure there’s inclusion in disadvantaged communities, we make sure there’s inclusion for everybody that lives in the area. We took this one step further,” he said.

Lamont also said that, due to the increased number of young professionals moving back into the state, it will be important to prioritize transit-oriented development.

“A lot of pilots, stewardesses. folks that work at Amazon, [and] young professionals are coming back,” he said.

“We had more young professionals moving into the state of Connecticut last year than any other state in all of New England, and eighth most in the country,” Lamont said. “People are getting something right. And a lot of that is related to housing. And a lot of housing is related to transit-oriented development…this is a rail state and we’re beginning to refurbish, rebuild our rail and what that means … the fact that these are going to be good paying trains jobs … [making] sure these are Connecticut jobs, Connecticut people. … That’s what Connecticut is all about.”

Consultant: Pratt & Whitney Stadium needs $63.3M in repairs and upgrades

Michael Puffer

The nearly 20-year-old Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford needs $63.3 million in upgrades and repairs, according to a consultant hired to assess the condition of the state’s nearly 20-year-old premier sports arena.

“… as the stadium approaches its third decade of operation, its ability to deliver a positive guest experience is crucial for it to remain relevant both locally and nationally,” reads a portion of the report delivered by stadium design expert Populous. “It is important to keep the facility in a first-class condition and well maintained for a great experience for fans, staff, and the University of Connecticut.”

The Capital Region Development Authority – which manages the 38,000-seat stadium for the state – hired Populous last fall to perform a comprehensive review of the stadium's needs over the coming 20 years, with a particular focus on the next five years.

“You could spend a lot more, you could spend a lot less, but that’s what we think we need,” CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth told members of his Venue Committee Wednesday.

Freimuth said the state has put $8 million  into repairs and upgrades during the life of the stadium.

“We have been fortunate,” Freimuth said. “It’s worn well, but it’s time. It’s time to take on things like roofs, mechanical systems, technology.”

Pratt & Whitney Stadium is home to the UConn Huskies football team, but has also hosted soccer, rugby and lacrosse events, weddings and concerts for major performers including The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and The Police. The venue has seen more than a million visitors at “nearly 200 major events and hundreds of smaller-scale” events since opening in 2003, according to a CRDA summary.

The stadium was built on a 75-acre property donated by United Technologies in a $92 million state-funded project that began in November 2000 and wrapped up in August 2003. It was originally named Rentschler Field, after Pratt & Whitney founder Frederick Rentschler. The name was changed to Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in 2015.

In its report, Populous complimented the maintenance of the stadium, but found it had been lacking in adequate capital investment in areas and that systems were simply wearing out, according to a CRDA summary. The Populous report detailed need for critical capital investments, with special focus on:

A replacement of the roof in the Tower Building and roof repairs for outbuildings.

Technology upgrades to make the building better suited for UConn events, producers and broadcasters, as well as safer, more efficient and more welcoming to visitors.

Rehabilitation of elevators, concourse areas, walkways, stairwells and various mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Replacement of time-worn irrigation and drainage systems on the playing field and overall site.

Among other issues, Populous found the roof in the Tower building to be in “very poor” condition, allowing for water intrusion and resulting damage. Technology was found lacking, resulting in reduced capabilities for sound and video production, as well as broadcasting ability. Eighteen of 35 security cameras in the stadium aren’t functioning properly and cameras in the parking lot do not have reliable wireless connections.

“God forbid we have something happen and we have to go back and look at what the camera caught,” said Kimberly C. Hart, venue director for CRDA. “That’s unacceptable for a building like this.”

Parking lots are cracked, as is concrete and mortar in the stadium. There is rust on exterior stairs and railings. The ability to evacuate the stadium is not up to modern standards. Air handling and heating systems are approaching the end of their useful lives, among a laundry list of issues.

Populous estimates investments in the coming five years at the stadium to cost $63.3 million, which could be phased in over several state biennial budget cycles, including a projection of $24 million in the upcoming 2023-2025 cycle, according to the CRDA summary.

Freimuth said the work recommended by Populous should see the stadium through another 10 to 15 years.

Responding to a question following Wednesday’s meeting, Freimuth said the Office of Policy and Management will ultimately decide the magnitude of repairs and the amount of funding requested of state lawmakers through a statewide bonding plan. The report, along with feedback from CRDA and UConn will help inform that decision, he said.

CRDA decided to pursue a facilities study as it nears a crossroads in the management of the stadium.

The original lease agreement between the state and University of Connecticut – the facility’s primary tenant – is set to expire in June 2023. The memorandum of understanding that set CRDA as the facility’s operator also expires next year, as does CRDA’s contract with Oak View Group Facilities, which manages the stadium on an everyday basis. 

Armed with steady backlogs, nonresidential construction pros shrug off recession fears

Joe Bousquin

Nonresidential contractor confidence rose in August and backlog held steady as builders shook off fears of a looming recession, according to Associated Builders and Contractors, despite evidence the Federal Reserve will need to escalate its war on inflation even more via ever higher interest rates.

The ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator, which measures the months of work contractors have won but haven’t yet started, held at 8.7 months in August, the same level as July and a full month higher than August 2021. The sustained level came amid increases in the commercial and institutional sector, as well as heavy industrial projects, even as the bookings for infrastructure projects fell.

The results helped buoy contractors’ optimism for sales, staffing — and most tellingly, profit margins — over the next six months, all of which rose from July’s reading, though they were still below year-ago levels. Profit expectations have been hampered this year by continued inflation and higher staffing costs.

“The buoyancy of the nation’s nonresidential construction marketplace is really quite remarkable,” said Anirban Basu, ABC’s chief economist, in a release. “Rising interest rates have already driven the single-family homebuilding market into recession, but brisk nonresidential activity continues.”

While backlog is still below its cyclical peak from early 2022, it has remained essentially flat in recent months, he said. That indicates a more steady environment for the sector than seen in residential construction, which has been hammered by rising mortgage rates.

The heightened expectations come as many nonresidential contractors are operating at capacity, Basu said. Principal challenges in the sector relate to supply-side issues like worker shortages, equipment delivery delays and elevated materials prices, as opposed to demand for their services, the typical hallmark of a weaker environment in the sector.

But that doesn’t mean nonresidential construction contractors can relax. Last week, planning activity saw a modest dip and growth in the Architectural Billings Index, another harbinger of future construction demand, slowed. But both remained in positive territory for the year.

The increasingly optimistic outlook among commercial construction contractors was reported on the same day August’s inflation report came in hotter than expected, tanking financial markets on Wall Street. The consumer price index unexpectedly rose 0.1% in August, and was up 8.3% for the year, despite a recent fall in fuel prices.

It’s one of the last broad economic indicators members of the Federal Reserve’s Open Markets Committee will see before their meeting later this month to consider further interest rate hikes. Economists were expecting CPI to shrink modestly for the month.

Shelton P&Z approves apartment, retail plans for former Chromium Process site

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Development of the former Chromium Process site — which has been home to parking for those living, working and visiting businesses downtown — has received the go-ahead.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, at its meeting Tuesday, unanimously approved developer John Guedes’ plans to construct a four-story building on land listed as 113 Canal St., with first floor retail and 30 apartments — at least three of which will be affordable units — on the top three floors.

The major focus of the project was on parking, which commissioners have stated is already lacking in the ever-growing downtown.

To answer that issue, commissioners stated that 45 parking spots should be “adequate” for the development.

Since on-site parking is limited to 38 spaces, the commission’s resolution states Guedes must provide written confirmation, guaranteeing the availability of not less than seven “additional, conveniently located off-site parking spaces reserved for tenants of the subject proposal.”

As is normally the case, the commission further stated that parking for the ground level retail space will continue to rely on municipal parking facilities.

Commissioners, residents and even fellow developers have questioned Guedes’ plan in terms of available parking.

Angelo Melisi, developer of Bridge Street Commons I and II on Howe Avenue, says he supports continued downtown development, but only if the parking provided is adequate to meet the need.

Guedes has stated numerous times that the spaces allotted are adequate considering that the Conti building’s lot, which is used for municipal parking, is only feet away from the development.

The commission, in its resolution, stated that this stance was “totally inadequate.”

According to the regulations, one- and two-bedroom apartments require two resident parking spaces for the first five units and 1.5 spaces per apartment above five, according to the commission.

Applying these standards, required resident parking for the 30 apartments is 10 spaces for the first five apartments and 37.5 spaces for the remainder, for a total of 47.5 spaces.

The former Chromium Process site, which has been environmentally remediated, borders on Canal Street East and Canal Street West and is adjacent to the Housatonic Rail Co. and a few hundred feet from the Housatonic River. The site is currently used as a parking lot and is within walking distance of public parking facilities.

The city is in the process of leasing the parking spaces on the Eversource property, located across the street from the now completed Cedar Village at Carroll’s. An additional 70 spaces would put the available parking spaces downtown at about 500. The city also leases parking spaces at the Conti building.

As luxury apartments near Bridgeport groundbreaking, affordable units delayed

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — As Steelpointe’s Christoph family aims to break ground this fall on luxury apartments at the harbor-front East Side site, construction of the affordable units the developers are backing a few blocks away per their contract with the city is delayed.

“The project did compete for (state) low income housing tax credits this past January (and) lost by a couple points,” said Elizabeth Torres.

Torres is the former head of Building Neighborhoods Together (BNT), the nonprofit which has partnered with the father/son team of Robert Christoph Sr. and Jr. to build 44 units of mostly-affordable apartments at East Main and Nichols streets, located a short walk under Interstate 95 from Steelpointe.

Now working with BNT as a consultant, Torres and BNT CEO Doris Latorre in a joint interview this week said they are aiming to submit a successful application for tax credits to the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority in January.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Torres said.

If BNT obtains the tax break for the $14.3 million development, Torres said construction should be underway a year from now, with the units available by the end of 2024.

Recently the Christophs’ planned 1,500-unit high-end apartment complex, financed with the help of a 12-year municipal tax break, has been getting all the attention. Last week it was announced that they have partnered with Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties on the endeavor.

That latter company, which describes itself as the “Midwest’s largest and most experienced” developer of multi-family properties, will help construct, then manage, the Steelpointe housing.

But under a several-years-old development agreement with the city, the Christophs must also build or help pay for new affordably-priced units representing 10 percent of their total market-rate ones. And most of those can be scattered around town rather than all at Steelpointe.

The Christophs have previously partnered with BNT to fulfill that commitment. In the case of the East Main and Nichols streets effort, Torres said the developers provided BNT a no-cost ground lease for the vacant site and $650,000 to help defray the overall price tag.

But, Torres explained, the state aid is the main chunk of funding that will allow BNT to break ground. She said this year’s tax credit application was rejected because the project did not meet the state’s “really high sustainability and energy conservation priorities.”

“We lost a couple of points ... that we will correct this time around,” she said.

“We learned from the first one (application),” said Latorre. “And we think we have a good project and really believe in the project.”

Latorre noted how its tenants will have easy access to the downtown bus and train stations, Interstate 95 and amenities at Steelpointe like the Starbucks coffee shop.

Still, there have been some concerns raised — particularly last winter when the City Council debated providing the Christophs a tax cut for their market rate housing complex — about Steelpointe becoming an exclusive community tucked between the harbor and the interstate. Besides moving ahead with the pricey apartments there, the developers have also built a marina which has hosted some luxury yacht events over the past few years.

City Council President Aidee Nieves, who represents the neighborhood, argued locating the affordable development at East Main and Nichols streets is an effort to extend Steelpointe’s success further into the East Side, not to segregate its residents.

“Steelpointe is just an anchor,” Nieves said. “We need to make sure development continues up the East Main Street corridor and into the rest of the neighborhoods.”

She said the goal is for residents and visitors at Steelpointe to also have reasons to travel further into the East End — and vice versa — making it all one “vibrant neighborhood” and “making sure there are no ‘invisible barriers’ created.”

Nieves and her council partner, Maria Valle, were disappointed to learn that the 44 units had faced a setback with the tax credits.

“It’s a little disheartening,” Nieves said.

“I thought it (construction) would have started by now,” said Valle.

Kyle Garnett has operated New Creation’s barber shop and beauty salon at 410 East Main Street for 15 years and has been looking forward to the new 44 units of housing opening across the street, noting the property has been vacant since he has been in business.

“Just to see a change in the neighborhood and upgrade the neighborhood,” Garnett said. “Lift it up. Just to see new faces, new activity. It would definitely help out the neighborhood.”

New Canaan finance board approves $1.2 million for police building plans

Grace Duffield

NEW CANAAN — Design plans totaling $1.2 million to revamp the police department headquarters were unanimously approved by the Board of Finance Tuesday.

This allotment comes after the project was already greenlit for $300,000 in study costs.

The $1.5 million total includes pre-construction fees including schematic designs, design development and construction documents created by Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes Architects. It also includes costs of the geotechnical engineer, owner’s representative, cost estimator and attorney fees to review the contracts.

This will help set the wheels in motion on the $28.5 million plan that calls for keeping much of the envelope of the current headquarters — a 96-year-old once-retrofitted school building — then knocking down the old addition in the back and replacing it with a new section. The present facility was deemed outdated by numerous town officials and lacks modern needs, such as adequate locker space for female officers, a simulated training area and computer equipment, police officials say.

The project is moving along as Town Engineer Joe Zagarenski shared the project time frame with the building committee last week. The schematic design phase will continue until late September or early October; design development will continue through the end of the year; and construction documents are expected to be completed in May 2023, he said.

It is expected to go out to bid in June 2023, with bids expected to come back a month later in July. Shovels are expected in the ground next fall, with construction is expected to take anywhere from 18 months to two years.

The police department building committee can’t oversee the whole process by itself, though.

Therefore, the committee are moving quickly to secure an owner’s representative. A construction industry expert, such as this, was used during the New Canaan High School renovation and the Saxe Middle School’s addition, according to building committee member Penny Rashin. The individual will represent the town’s interests, keep the process moving forward, settle disputes between project team members and may save the town money, said Rashin, who is also school board member.

“All of us are volunteers, so you need a pro to be running the project day to day,” Amy Murphy, a member of the building committee said. Requests for qualified candidates will be drafted and sent out soon, according to the committee members, and professionals who have worked on large projects in New Canaan before will be preferred.

During construction, police office functions will be moved into 39 Locust Ave., where the Board of Education is presently located. Next summer, school administrators will be moving to 220 Elm St., a site purchased by the town last year for $6.1 million.

Zagarenski said the timing meshes nicely for the offices since the Locust Avenue school administration is going to remain in the building until June and move during the summer school break, providing for a timely transition. While the lease was originally to be terminated in March, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said he extended it for the police.

Officials have previously said that the town will likely share police dispatch and jail spaces with another area town.

Earlier discussions included plans for training area and firing range behind the police station on South Avenue, however, the committee has since decided to have it on a separate parcel of land.

The location of that area has yet to be determined, but the committee has narrowed the search down to just two choices after various studies. Zagarenski did not disclose where those land options were, but said that the town hopes to share the facility and the costs with other area towns and is waiting for plans to be put together for the firing range.

”We need to get a little bit of the due diligence done before we could even have a marketing package to present to other police departments to get them interested,” Zagarenski said.