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CT Construction Digest Tuesday April 14, 2020

Crisis averted for $87.35 million Middletown middle school project
Cassandra Day
MIDDLETOWN — Officials were happy to report the $87.35 million middle school project is right on schedule, despite a roadblock involving nonessential business amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The new Woodrow Wilson Middle School will offer the latest in building methods, energy efficiency and technology for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders once the project is complete in August 2021.
Sixth-grade Keigwin Middle School students will also be incorporated into the combined project. The use of that facility is yet to be determined.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order deemed only construction projects already underway could continue, however, New York-based Schenectady Steel’s production was deemed nonessential by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to Gene Nocera, Common Council majority leader and co-general chairman of the Middle School Building Committee.
The middle school project hit a hitch two weeks ago during the erection of the building’s frame. That left Middletown officials in a position to implore Connecticut leaders that leaving one-third of the steel standing until after the pandemic recedes could present a safety hazard.
It was possible the city could have been “bypassed” so another project could get underway, Nocera said.
“We were very concerned about that, and we quickly moved into action about a week ago,” he said. As a result, Mayor Ben Florsheim wrote a letter to the state of New York and the steel company. “We were very pleased that Connecticut deemed us an essential project,” Nocera said.
The city was pleased to learn Friday the request was approved. “That was huge, otherwise the project could have been delayed by six months or more. It’s a project that involves a lot of variables — a lot of balls in the air — so we have to stay on top of everything,” he added.
“Each of the building areas were analyzed under the assumption that the adjacent building areas would be fully constructed, shielding the structure from wind loading along the common building elevation,” Florsheim wrote April 6 to Torrington-based O&G Industries project manager Joseph Vetro.
The structure would be classified as a partially enclosed building and subject to higher wind loads than it was designed for, the mayor said.
“To let it sit there indefinitely posed a huge problem for the project, and also a safety issue internally and externally for the steel, because it was the plans were drawn up for it to be connected together so it was safe to work there,” Nocera said.“This was a great investment by the taxpayers,” said Phil Pessina, Common Council minority leader and vice chairman of the committee. “This community has always been invested in education. This building is going to a great campus for our city, especially in those formative years for seventh- and eighth-graders.”
The Pat Kidney Sports Complex directly across the street includes baseball and football fields, tennis courts, a walking trail and track, which will complement both the community’s and school system’s athletic needs.
“In my career in politics in the city, this is one I can look back on as one of the greatest opportunities to be on this committee to ensure our students get the best they deserve,” Pessina said.
Some controversy erupted about a year ago, prompted by the unofficial Woodrow Wilson naming committee, which met to narrow down suggested names for the new school, an authority officials say rests with the Common Council.
They cited racial issues involving the former president who also taught at Wesleyan University.
Other opposition to the plan arose, primarily from graduates of Wilson high and middle schools, who say losing the name would erase the historic value, pride and sense of identity felt by thousands of graduates.
With City Hall and other offices closed until at least May 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pessina said he expects the matter will be taken up by councilors once the building is finished.
The committee has a $3 million contingency fund set aside. “We are under budget and hopefully on time,” something that requires careful bookkeeping and reviews, Nocera said.
“It keeps you up at night. Every invoice now is vetted and we’re careful with it. When there are change orders, we’re careful not to shortchange the project. We come up with alternate plans that are as good or better than the original ones,” he said.
“We’re very busy, but it’s a good busy,” Nocera said.
Common Councilwoman and committee Co-chairwoman Jeanette Blackwell was “thrilled” at the opportunity to co-lead the project.
“It’s exciting to be a part of something that will fundamentally change how middle schoolers learn in this city for decades to come,” said Blackwell, who is committed to ensuring Middletown students are prepared for a fast-paced world of high-tech and computer-based learning.
“This project indicates a level of commitment and underscores the value we all place on high-quality education,” Blackwell said.
“Technology enhances relationships and improves teaching and learning in a more meaningful way. The teacher’s and student’s interaction during the learning process is greatly improved,” she said.
Blackwell said she’s focused on collaborating and partnering with the council, Superintendent of Schools Michael Conner and the Board of Education, builders and residents, to ensure the project remains on target. “It is critically important that we continue to embed checks and balances in the middle school project to ensure a level of confidence in all phases of the work,” she explained.
Pessina was proud of the collaboration between committee members as well as both Republicans and Democrats.
“This is the first time since I’ve been on the council that I can say there are no party flags,” said Pessina, who is known for his bipartisan approach to government. “We work under one flag, and that’s the city of Middletown. I’m very fortunate that Gene and I, who grew up as friends, have our leadership roles on both sides.
“We’re working for what’s good for Middletown,” Pessina said.

Two major projects in Winsted moving forward amid state shutdown
WINSTED — Two of the biggest projects in town — the medical building on South Main Street and the American Mural Project on nearby Whiting Street — are both moving forward despite an state shutdown to slow down COVID-19.
Brian E. Mattiello, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s regional vice president for strategy and community development, said any delays thus far have had more to do with “unforeseen site challenges” as opposed to extraneous obstacles like COVID-19.
Workers have struck large boulders during digs and one time found an antique car that may have dated back to prior the Flood of 1955. Mattiello said he thinks the fall is a more realistic target now for when the building will be open to the public. The target had been June.
The $4- to $5-million, three-story, 28,000-square-foot building will include seven providers of both primary and specialty care on the top floor; the emergency department on the second floor; and X-ray, CAT-scan, and diagnostic and rehabilitation services on the bottom floor.
The medical building is a key outcome of the recent partnership between Hartford HealthCare and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington.
Mattiello said the building is coming at an opportune time.
“We are keenly aware of the importance for this region to have the kind of health services we intend to provide and the people in Winsted and throughout Northwest Connecticut deserve,” he said.

Meanwhile, less than a half-mille away, there is the American Mural Project at 90 Whiting St. Executive Director Amy Wynn said before the governor started ordering businesses to close, mural founder Ellen Griesedieck and “her team had made some wonderful progress to prepare the next, very different mural subjects for installation.”
One of them is a ceramic farmer and her milk cow, another is a foundry worker that is also ceramic and the eye of the statue of liberty that is made of cut marble.
Griesedieck also continues to work on other sections of the mural, including a piano and incorporating appropriate music selections sent to her from a wide range of renowned musicians.
“We are not sure exactly when these pieces and others will be installed, as it’s a matter of when Ellen can safely travel back to Connecticut (Griesedieck left for vacation before the COVID-19 warnings became as prominent as they are now).”
For now, Wynn said the mural is about 35% complete and the majority of the mural should be installed by the winter of 2022.
“We refrain from sharing a target date for officially opening at this point, as we are absorbing the potential impact of the economic downturn into our strategic planning at the moment and do not know. Planning and digging deep into that process is something we can do at the moment, while we await the go ahead for scheduling tours again safely, and engaging in-person with students).”
As of now, the American Mural Project is still holding its annual summer enrichment camp for school-age children.