CT Construction Digest Thursday September 9, 2021
NEW BRITAIN – Efforts to improve one of the city’s most popular destinations are reaching a crucial point.
Visitors to Stanley Quarter Park are already enjoying new trails, picnic spaces, a playground and basketball courts, among over $1 million in recent additions made there. In the near future, the park’s focal point – its pond – will be cleaner, healthier and more suited to these enhanced surroundings.
City officials are awaiting approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to move forward with the dredging of the pond and related work. Once the remaining permits are secured, plans will be finalized and a Request For Proposals (RFP) will be issued to solicit bids from companies interested in conducting the project.
“Stanley Quarter Park is a beautiful space that is enjoyed by our entire community,” Mayor Erin Stewart said in an announcement this week. “The dredging of the pond is a crucial piece to ensuring the upkeep of this park for many years to come.”
The mayor and Parks Director Erik Barbieri are working closely with an environmental consultant to prepare project plans and permit applications. Their hope is construction will begin by late fall or winter of this year.
The dredging of the pond is a necessary step in reducing sediment accumulation, which has negatively impacted wildlife and vegetation, officials said. In order to prevent the future accumulation of sediment, a forebay will be installed. Fish structures will also be constructed along the bottom of the pond.
All of these steps aid in future maintenance of the pond, enhance its natural beauty and allow it to be enjoyed by visitors.
The Downes Construction Company of New Britain is an award-winning construction services firm that has contributed to many of the important buildings in the surrounding communities.
The company has had a role in the construction of the Newington Town Hall and Community Center, as well as in the renovation of the New Britain Museum of American Art and the New Britain Town Hall. The company has also worked on the Bristol Memorial Boulevard Intradistrict Magnet Arts School building that is currently under construction.
The Downes Construction Company was established in 1934, and since then, its staff’s expertise and commitment to high quality production has attracted many repeat customers, according to its website.
“[The company] delivers a unique combination of technology, in-depth staff experiences and a family commitment to maintaining the highest standards of quality, performance, and integrity,” the website states. “The company has successfully responded to owner needs since 1934 building repeat business from a broad range of clients.”
The Downes Construction Company offers a range of construction related services, such as project feasibility studies and planning, construction administration, construction and project management, purchasing and cost control and more.
The company has worked on a range of different types of projects over the years, from the construction of healthcare facilities to the renovation of school buildings. Many of the key buildings in New Britain and the surrounding towns have been touched in some way by Downes Construction.
The Downes Construction Company does not only contribute to the community with its construction work; it also participates in the New Britain High School Job Shadow Program, allowing students to shadow their workers to see if a career in the construction industry is right for them.
The Downes Construction Company has received many awards over the years for its work. The company received three separate awards so far this year. It received the 2021 CREW CT Blue Ribbon Award for both the Best in Class: Healthcare category and the Best in Class: Education category for its work on the Hospital for Special Care Autism Inpatient Unit & Partial Hospitalization Program and the CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering in Rocky Hill. The company also received an award of merit for its work on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Campus in the 2021 Connecticut Building Congress Project Team Award’s K-12 Schools (Large) Category.
ANSONIA — A rock crushing operation on Riverside Drive will go to a public hearing Sept. 20 as the city seeks to clear up questions about what is allowed at the site.
The city is considering a zoning amendment that would add additional rules and clearly define what is allowed at the facility, which is owned by Burns Construction. The company lists headquarters in Ansonia and Stratford.
The facility has long been a source of frustration to nearby residents who have complained about quality of life issues. Some opponents have said that the city, by considering an amendment, is prioritizing the interests of Burns Construction over the concerns of residents regarding a planning and zoning meeting on August 30.
But the corporate counsel, John Marini disagreed and said that the amendment is a compromise.
“Without the amendment, without the regulation, there is no saying when the activity can start, when it has to stop. There’s nothing there to protect our residents. So we’re looking at hopefully a compromise solution,” Marini said.
Yet David Rhodes, a resident and an unaffiliated candidate running for the 5th Ward alderman seat, said that this is not a compromise since other residents don’t want it in operation. He said it made as much sense as the city hypothetically allowing theft to occur during set hours, while otherwise, outlawing it. Rhodes said nothing was solved during the meeting.
But he said that the impact of the rock crushing is negatively affecting Ansonia residents.
“It’s just not fair for citizens to have to close their windows on a beautiful day, because their house was filling up with dust. And it’s not just the ones right next to it, it’s in a large range area. People shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘oh, four o’clock in the morning, there’s the truck; I’m now awake,” Rhodes said.
A call requesting comment placed to Burns Construction’s Ansonia location Tuesday was referred to the company’s Stratford office and had not been returned by Wednesday afternoon.
The amendment, if passed, would give specific starting and stopping times for the rock crushing from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Rock crushing would not be allowed on holidays or weekends. The facility would also have to test equipment for noise levels and control the spread of dust from the rock crushing, Marini said.
Marini said that these regulations would be a win for residents.
But Brian Perkins, an opponent of the facility and a Democrat running for alderman in the 5th Ward, repeated his claim that the amendment is a way for the city to retroactively make it legal.
“Our whole thing currently is why (does the company) need a zoning text amendment at all if you guys say you have a permit for it,” Perkins said.
The facility has faced opposition before. In 2002, the previous owners, Complete Construction were ordered by the city to cease rock crushing. Because the city has previously ordered the activity to stop, Perkins said that Marini’s comments that the rock crushing is legal are disingenuous, since the original cease and desist stated that the previous owners couldn’t import materials to be processed at the facility.
The proposed amendment would allow for Burns Construction to transport materials on site.
The two members of the city’s Board of Aldermen who currently represent the 5th Ward, Joseph Jaumann and Chicago Rivers, were not available for comment.
Chris Rogers, an Ansonia resident who lives near the facility said the city has also not reached out to residents regarding the zoning amendment.
“Our input is that the city, they’re trying to backdoor this project and get it approved via this zoning text amendment,” Rogers said. “They’re supposed to be working with the neighbors. But we haven’t had any conversations with the city. They haven’t reached out to us or anything.”
But Marini said that the public meeting scheduled on Sept. 20 would allow residents to voice their concerns. He said the amendment could be a compromise that would benefit to residents and also the company.
“I don’t think anyone wants to lose a major employer, a major tax source for the town, and jobs,” Marini said.
NORWALK — A revamped driveway for Silvermine Dual Language Magnet School and several new school buildings remain in the design phase of development.
Three driveway options are being considered for Silvermine, William Hodel, director of facilities and maintenance for Norwalk Public Schools, told the facilities committee during its recent meeting. The proposal is to enhance the parking lot at the Perry Avenue elementary school.
“We have about three plans and they’ve been constantly changing. One of the three is probably the most reasonable, but that’s going to be by unanimous vote,” Hodel said. “Whatever plan we do agree on certainly needs to meet the needs of the comings and goings on a daily basis.”
The facilities committee will vote after the options are presented. If approved, the project could go out to bid this fall with construction starting next summer.
This summer, the school was closed while the facilities department replaced all of the building’s vinyl asbestos floor tile with vinyl composite tile.
During the facilities committee meeting, teachers and staff at Cranbury Elementary received an overview presentation of the designs for their new building. The designs were first revealed this summer at a Norwalk Planning Commission meeting. The commissioners approved the $45 million construction project.
The project remains on schedule and on budget, according to James Giuliano, president of Construction Solutions Group, the city’s project manager for new school construction.
Giuliano’s group met with the state this summer to review the design development documents for the project. The state approved them and allowed the group to move on to the construction documents, which need to be completed by late November.
The project is also going through the city’s zoning board of appeals for a variance regarding the rear set back of the new school building.
Giuliano also praised the interdisciplinary team working at Norwalk High School to help make progress in the programming and design of the new planned building. The interdisciplinary team has answered questions regarding the educational purpose of spaces within the design as well as how work on the new building will commence while learning continues in the existing building on the same site.
“It’s a big building and it’s going to take quite a bit of time to finalize the spaces,” Giuliano said. “We have the construction manager working with us to review how the phasing is going to go and to try to mitigate as much disruption to the students over the four years that construction is going to be in progress.”
Other school construction projects in progress include renovations to Jefferson Elementary School and a new kitchen and media center at Naramake Elementary School.
NEWTOWN — The southwest quadrant of the town’s Fairfield Hills campus is slated to be cleared of four empty red brick buildings that harken to a century ago, when the property was a thriving hospital.
“We don’t want to demolish them, but we have no current use for them,” said Christal Preszler, Newtown’s deputy director of economic and community development. “Those buildings are on the list to be demolished.”
The buildings, which are still known by their names when the hospital housed 4,000 psychiatric patients and 3,000 staff, would not be demolished all at once but over the next decade, at a cost to Newtown of more than $10 million, according to town documents.
The four buildings — Plymouth Hall, Stamford Hall, Norwalk Hall and Cochran House, are southwest of the last large former hospital building that was demolished in 2016 — the 225,000-square-foot Canaan House. In its place is Newtown’s $15 million community center and $3 million senior center.
As much as residents have come to appreciate the character of the colonial relics, leaders say taxpayers can’t continue to maintain deteriorating buildings with hazardous materials that are not well suited for redevelopment.
Until recently, two other large, red-brick hulks were in the same category. But developers with a plan to use federal tax credits to build age-restricted housing in the old buildings started a two-year process in which Newtown voters approved rezoning the campus to allow a limited number of apartments, and the town asked for developers to put in their best bids.
The winning bid came from a Boston developer in July, who proposed redeveloping Kent House and Shelton House with a mix of apartments and commercial uses.
The successful bidder Winn Development still has a series of applications to make and approvals to pursue, including site plan approval from Newtown’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Meanwhile, the town hasn’t given up marketing smaller former hospital buildings on campus for commercial reuse. Newtown points to the successful redevelopment of Stratford House into the NewSylum Brewing Company, and the conversion of one of the campus’ so-called duplexes into the headquarters of a non-profit.
Other smaller buildings the town believes have commercial reuse potential include Newtown Hall, the 16,000-square-foot former hospital administration building, with a distinctive clock tower.
The marketing effort is part of a long-term strategy to transform the 185-acre campus into the civic and cultural center of town.
The only way demolition would be forestalled is if developers stepped forward, Preszler said.
“We would love to speak to someone who is interested in one of these buildings,” Preszler said. “We don’t know of any other options.”
KEITH M. PHANEUF
Given Gov. Ned Lamont’s reluctance to fund the State Contracting Standards Board, some lawmakers are exploring new legal options to insulate the watchdog agency from the governor’s control — including moving it from Executive Branch oversight to the Legislative Branch.
And after watching long-overdue funding for several new watchdog positions vanish at the last minute in June, the contracting board recently learned it will lose its only employee — Executive Director David Guay — to retirement next year.
“We need to make sure the contracting standards board has an ability to do the work that we’ve assigned them to do,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee.
The contracting board made headlines in June when, after nearly 14 years of minimal staffing and funding, it appeared poised to grow and fully meet its mission to safeguard state contracting procedures.
The new two-year state budget legislators negotiated with Lamont included $450,000 to fund five additional positions. Currently, the board’s only staffer is Guay, its executive director.
But shortly after that was passed, legislative leaders — at the request of the Lamont administration — included a provision in a subsequent budget policy bill that barred the board from spending $450,000 of its annual allotment.
Osten and others say the last-minute reversal stemmed from the contracting board’s growing interest in the Connecticut Port Authority and one very controversial contract.
Created by the legislature in 2014 to facilitate development of Connecticut’s deep-water ports, the authority’s highest-profile task right now is working with Eversource and its Denmark-based partner, Ørsted North America, to develop an offshore wind farm ultimately capable of generating 4,000 megawatt hours of electricity.
Lamont, who inherited the authority when he took office in January 2019, overhauled the quasi-public entity’s leadership and assigned his budget office to professionalize operations there.
But the contracting board took an interest in the spring of 2019 after learning that the port authority had selected Gateway Terminal to operate State Pier and remake it into a heavy-lift capable port that can accommodate wind power-generation equipment.
The contracting board specifically focused on more than $700,000 in fees paid to Seabury Capital Group to help with search for a pier operator. The Day of New London first reported that those payments included a $523,000 “success” or reward fee — and that this happened three months after Henry Juan III of Greenwich, who was a managing director with Seabury, resigned from the authority board.
The state auditors referred a whistleblower complaint regarding the port authority to Attorney General William Tong, who has an investigation pending.
Legislative Branch oversight?
For Osten, one option is to remove the board statutorily from the Executive Branch and place it under the direct jurisdiction of the legislature.
“I think they could fit in very easily under legislative management, very much akin with what happens with the auditors,” Osten said. Though empowered by law to review programs and finances within all state agencies and quasi-public entities, the Office of the Auditors of Public Accounts is within the legislative branch, and its leaders are appointed by the General Assembly.
House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said the legislature also should explore extending special budgetary protections to the board, such as those granted in the mid-2000s to three other watchdog agencies. Lawmakers specifically barred the governor from imposing emergency budget cuts and other funding adjustments after the fiscal year was underway on the Office of State Ethics, the Freedom of Information Commission and the Election Enforcement Commission.
“I think we need to have that conversation,” Candelora said.
Any proposal to revise the contracting board would go through the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. Rep. Dan Fox, D-Stamford, who co-chairs that committee, said no one has discussed any potential changes with him to date. But Fox did say the contracting standards board does have merit and should continue to function.
Part of the problem, Candelora said, is that while Lamont’s fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority grumbled about the administration’s request to effectively remove the extra staffing for the contracting board, they weren’t ready to fight the governor publicly in June.
Candelora noted the contracting board was the centerpiece of the legislature’s response to the contracting scandals that ultimately landed former Gov. John G. Rowland, a Republican, in federal prison for 10 months.
Though enacted while another Republican, M. Jodi Rell, was governor in 2007, funding was quickly suspended in 2008 as Connecticut and the nation fell into recession and state government finances plunged into the red.
Democratic governors who’ve served since — Dannel P. Malloy from 2011 through 2018, and Lamont since 2019 — haven’t warmed to the contracting board.
The Lamont administration has said the board duplicates services already provided by other investigative agencies, even though Lamont pledged as a gubernatorial candidate in a 2018 union questionnaire that he would fully fund the contracting board.
“It was borne out of having a Republican governor, and it’s meeting its death with a Democratic governor,” Candelora said.
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, another southeastern Connecticut lawmaker who wants to see the contracting board probe the port authority, said he also is open to any conversation to shield the panel from the Executive Branch.
“Now more than ever has proven that it’s a board that should move forward, he said. “It should be staffed to a level that makes sense.”
West Hartford Democrat Larry Fox, who chairs the contracting board, said the need for more funding recently has become even more urgent, considering Guay’s pending retirement.
Guay, 65, who has a nearly 30-year career in state government, told the CT Mirror he expects to step down in June or July. The governor currently has authority to appoint a successor.
“If there is a vacancy, Governor Lamont will fulfill his statutory duty and appoint a replacement,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director.
Osten and other advocates for the board have pledged to fight to restore funding for a full investigative staff in the regular 2022 General Assembly session, which runs from early February through early May.
But even if they’re successful, Larry Fox said, the clock is ticking if Guay is to pass his institutional knowledge onto other staffers.
“It’s extremely important to me that there be some overlap of time where it can become a major focus of his work, to provide training and orientation to them,” Fox said.
The contracting board chairman added that if legislators do carve out new rules to safeguard the panel’s funding, it would mean little if somehow the board’s power or scope of authority is curtailed.
For example, the state auditors within the Legislative Branch can comment on all agencies’ actions and make recommendations — but has no power to enforce them.
The contracting standards board, if it finds a contract has been improperly executed, can nullify it under certain conditions.
The leader of one of the state employee unions has been a strong advocate for the standards board.
CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 Executive Director David Glidden agreed Tuesday that more funding for the contracting board is essential, but legislators must be careful what they trade to get it.
“Every administration since the formation of the board has bristled under the scrutiny of the board, and they’ve wanted to minimize the ability” to act, he said, adding it would be a mistake if the panel became “just a recommending board.”
New London — The city has assigned prime developer status to a New York-based marine design and engineering company for development of the city’s Waterfront Park.
The City Council emerged from a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to approve a one-year agreement with Advanced American Engineering that gives the company exclusive negotiating rights to work out a possible lease or development agreement with the city. In return, the city has agreed not to market the city’s waterfront with the exception of the Custom House Pier, which the city has leased to City Dock Oyster Bar & Restaurant. The city is under no obligation to accept any proposals.
What type of development Advanced American Engineering has in mind is unclear, since the City Council opted not to discuss the plans in public at Tuesday’s meeting.
Reached on Wednesday, Advanced American Engineering partner David Hancock and Attorney Mathew Greene, who represents the company, deferred to the wishes of the City Council and declined to talk about what type of plan was discussed with the City Council during closed-door meetings.
Hancock said his company is involved in design and engineering work on waterfront developments, including piers, docks, marinas and bulkheading, or seawalls. The proposed development zone included in the agreement with New London encompasses all of the city’s piers and docking spaces, along with the mooring field.
He said his company designed and engineered aspects of the overall waterfront design of the development at Garvies Point in Glen Cove, N.Y., which features an ecology pier, marina and esplanade, or open area for walking along the water. The company also worked on the design of Marina Pointe, a waterfront residential community in East Rockaway, N.Y., and is working with the National Park Service on design of a marina and waterfront park in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Hancock said New London’s waterfront appears underdeveloped and lacking some of the more modern amenities that attract boaters and activity.
“I picked up on that and came up with a proposal, something that could add some positive economic development,” Hancock said. “New London is a pretty cool town.”
Mayor Michael Passero said he expects a public presentation in the coming weeks.
One of his goals for the city’s waterfront is to provide for more dock space that could attract more marine commerce and perhaps a portion of the mega yacht industry and “everything that comes along with that.”
“We don’t have the space or adequate facilities. What I’m looking for is to improve the waterfront infrastructure with private equity, not public dollars, so the improvements are driven by market demand and the city reaps the economic benefits of increased marine commerce,” Passero said.
Tuesday’s agreement allows the developer time to finalize a plan, test to find out if it can get through the state permitting process and garner community support.
“We have a legitimate company interested in investing significantly in our waterfront. It’s a beautiful patch of navigable water that’s not usable because there is nothing there,” Passero said. “What we need in New London is a working waterfront. People are going to where there’s activity, where there’s action.”
A Texas company is proposing to build 238 apartments in Newington near CTfastrak’s Cedar Street station, potentially the biggest transit-oriented development since the busway opened six years ago.
Anthony Properties is proposing a four-story building with studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The company proposes a 310-car garage, a swimming pool for tenants and a sidewalk to the CTfastrak station.
The public will get to hear details Wednesday at 7 p.m. when the plan and zoning commission conducts a hearing. Details on viewing the online meeting will be at the town’s website at tinyurl.com/3u29tdkj.
When CTfastrak was in the planning stages a decade ago, state officials viewed the four-acre property just off Fenn Road as an ideal location for redevelopment.
The rusting, derelict industrial buildings had been vacant since 1994, and no private developers showed any interest in taking on the environmental cleanup costs to take down the old hulks. Newington took the property in a tax foreclosure in 2008, but appeared to be stuck with an unmarketable eyesore.
But several years later, the state transportation department agreed to build the busway’s Cedar Street station behind the Stop & Shop property, a short walk from the National Welding site.
Planners expected that developers would be lured because of the access to a commuter line linking Newington with New Britain, West Hartford and Hartford. And then-Gov. Dannel Malloy awarded $2 million in state funds to tear down the old metal fabricating building and clean the land beneath it.
But Republicans on Newington’s town council initially resisted efforts to make the tract easier to develop. Some councilors said they feared the state was trying to force high-density housing into town, ignoring the wishes of residents.
Last year, Dallas-based Anthony Properties put forward an offer to pay the town $1.4 million for the property.
Anthony representatives on Wednesday are expected to discuss how many of the apartments would be leased at market rates, and whether any would be set aside for affordable housing.
Assistant Town Planner Erik Hinckley told commissioners in a letter that he has concluded the plan meets the terms of the town’s Transit Oriented Development zone, which was created to foster development near CTfastrak.
When planners created that zone, they wrote that the purpose was to “grow Newington’s grand list, create employment, and provide Newington residents with additional retail, commercial, residential and entertainment opportunities.”
Anthony Properties’ portfolio claims no development experience in Connecticut, but the company has real estate holdings in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
One of its major development projects, Sunnybrook Village in Sioux City, Iowa, has more than 200 apartments along with an extensive retail center.
It also built the Colonnade at State College, a shopping center in Pennsylvania.