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CT Construction Digest Tuesday May 7, 2024

Lights are on at Torrington High

Sloan Brewster

TORRINGTON – Lights in harmony with natural lighting are up and working in classrooms in the new high school.

The building was opened to a group of tourgoers Saturday.

“They’re doing a lot of finishing touches,” said Board of Education Co- Chair Sue DePretis, noting that the $179.5 million project is on-time and within budget.

At a special Board of Education meeting Monday, DePretis apprized the board of the status of the project, noting that it was coming together very well.

“We’re at a point where curriculum and building are coming together,” she said.

DePretis, who took the tour with about 20 others, said the lights, which have been installed in some rooms, aren’t standard fluorescent lights seen in many buildings but instead are hanging LED, energy-saving, string lights that sync with natural outdoor lighting. When it’s bright and sunny outside, lights closest to windows will dim and those deeper in the room will brighten. Conversely, if it’s dark outside illumination will increase as needed.

She noted that it was a money saving feature.

DePretis said the building is temperature and noise controlled. While the school sits right beside Route 8 and traffic can be heard when outside the building, when inside it’s not discernible.

“When you’re inside you can’t hear a thing,” she said. “There’s no disturbance inside the classrooms from the highway.”

In addition to the lighting being put in since the last tours in March, the heating ventilation and air conditioning system has been installed with five units placed on the roof, Arum said.

Painting is ongoing with fresh coats on more classrooms and hallways, cabinets continue to go up in rooms and as walls get painted lockers are going up. Arum noted that most art and science rooms are painted and cabinets have been hung.

Flooring is in, in a number classrooms, he noted. Once it’s in a given room, contractors cover it so it doesn’t get damaged during construction.

Each floor of the building is color-coded, DePretis said.

“It’s for security, safety purposes, orientation so you could easily tell people ‘it’s the blue floor,'” she said by way of example.

The auditorium is a work in progress, Arum said, noting that the catwalks are in and a scaffolding that’s up while work is being done will come down in a month to a month and a half. The exterior of the auditorium is finished except for an area of wall that will be painted for use as a screen for outdoor movies.

Panels newly installed around windows on the front exterior wall and at the stairwell on the Route 8 side are made of metal but look like wood, which Arum said look great.

Shortly after school closes for summer break, part of the music wing at the old high school will be knocked down so workers can work in that area of the site, he said. Over the summer they will construct a new roadway into the school.

While that effort is being done -from June 15 to August 27- Major Besse Drive will be closed and only accessible for construction traffic, he said. Public can get into the property via Daley Drive behind the school near the athletic fields.

Depretis lauded the Building Committee for the job they’ve done to date and gave a “shout-out” to O&G Industries for “fantastic” project management.

She said the concept that local students will have an opportunity to learn in a state-of the-art facility is a positive.

“That we’re doing this in Torrington, it’s unheard of,” she said.

The project is ahead of schedule and students will be let into the high school next January 15, Arum said.

Initial plans for the 310,000-square foot school, which will house students in grades seven through 12, were to complete the high school portion by December 2024 and bring students in by February 2025. Middle School students are expected to be in by September 2025.

Ground was officially broken on the $179.58 million project in October 2022, Arum said. The state will reimburse 85% of all eligible costs, with the city responsible for the remaining 15%.

Rebuilding Norwalk bridge to cost $20M+, officials say as they laud I-95 reopening after tanker fire 

Peter YankowskiKalleen Rose Ozanic

NORWALK — As traffic flowed steadily on Interstate 95 on Monday, officials called it a "remarkable recovery" after a tanker fire destroyed an overpass and shut down the highway for days. 

During a news conference nestled in Norwalk’s Cedar Street Bridge overlooking I-95, Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling commended the combined efforts of federal, state and local governments in reopening I-95 within days of the three-vehicle crash.

Blumenthal called the 80-hour process that brought down the charred Fairfield Avenue bridge over I-95 a “symphony of teamwork” — a collaboration that cleared the way for rebuilding efforts that will be complete within a year and likely cost over $20 million, according to state Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.

But the officials emphasized that work is not yet done. The Fairfield Avenue bridge will be rebuilt within the next year and traffic delays will ensue from lane closures, Eucalitto said.

“We think the total cost will be upwards around $20 million, clean up and rebuild,” Eucalitto said.

That cost should be shouldered by the federal government, Blumenthal said, urging that funds be drawn from the Federal Highway Relief Fund.

“I don't think anything is a guarantee,” Lamont said. “But we've got a pretty good delegation. They know this is the way it's traditionally done, when the (federal government) steps in, in an emergency like this.”

On Monday evening, Lamont's office announced that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has approved $3 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to help offset the costs of the reconstruction of the bridge. 

During the press conference, Blumenthal said that local businesses should also benefit from federal relief, but did not specify from which federal programs that funding should come.

“There's going to be disruptions to traffic,” the senator said. “No question that access to some of these businesses is going to be constrained over the year that it takes to reconstruct that bridge. And our hope is that the disruption will be minimal and that whatever federal relief can be provided to those businesses is made available.”

Norwalk police said drivers should use Cedar Street and Stuart Avenue as alternate routes.

DOT engineers are drafting plans for the new bridge that will be ready in the next couple weeks, Eucalitto said, noting that he anticipates the bridge reconstruction will be complete within the next year.

“Our team has been working over the weekend to begin to finalize what is our preliminary design for rebuilding,” Eucalitto said.

Eucalitto said that the new bridge will be outfitted to new federal load ratings that have been updated since the destroyed bridge was built in 2016.

“We're also looking at, potentially, some wider shoulders on the bridge because our new process is to try to include more space for bikers,” Eucalitto said.

'A success story'

Overwhelmingly, officials lauded the speedy work of the DOT, first responders, and clean-up crews.

“Normally the sound behind us gets a lot of complaints, highway noise,” Eucalitto said. “I think today is probably the only day we're not going to get complaints about highway noise.”

Norwalk Fire Department Chief Gino Gatto said his “hat is off” to all the agencies that came together for the recovery.

“That's really nothing short of remarkable,” Gatto said.

The governor was of the same mind.

“We came down here on Friday to meet you guys, and it was hell getting here,” Lamont said. “Do you remember that? The hours and hours of delays. Look at the traffic here on (I-95), moving fast in both directions.”

“Look what these guys did in 80 hours,” Lamont said, also commending efforts from clean-up crews and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in preventing gasoline from entering the Norwalk River or Harbor.

Following the fire, where a tractor-trailer, Standard Petroleum truck and a passenger vehicle collided on I-95 southbound between exits 15 and 14 in Norwalk around 5:30 a.m. Thursday, DEEP and South Norwalk Electric and Water determined the public’s water was safe and uncontaminated.

Tactical fire department moves helped extinguish the fire quickly and mitigate damage, Gatto said: cooling the Standard Petroleum truck and bridge that were engulfed in flames with water and getting a foam engine on scene to extinguish the fire were crucial, he said.

“It was really the foam engine and the foam lines from both sides of the bridge that were able to extinguish the fire,” Gatto said.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff thanked Norwalkers and Nutmeggers for their patience in dealing with the “traffic nightmare” that began Thursday.

“We knew when we heard about this accident on Thursday that it was going to be a traffic nightmare for the people of the city of Norwalk, including all over the place.

“Many people here in the city stayed off the roads, wisely, so that others could get back, get off the highway and on the highway safely, and not add to the extra traffic that was out there,” Duff said.

The northbound lanes of I-95 reopened Saturday night. The southbound lanes in the area remained closed while crews repaved the section of highway, Norwalk police said. The southbound lanes were then reopened Sunday morning. 

“This is a success story,” Blumenthal said.

During early afternoon ceremonies in the State Capitol honoring DOT workers and first responders, lawmakers paid homage to the crew that worked around the clock to reopen one of the nation’s busiest highways.

Duff said he was able to get to the crash site early Saturday and watch the teamwork involved in dealing with the regional transit crisis.

“And if you couldn’t make it down to the site, thanks to our commissioner, Garrett Eucalitto, people could watch the webcam and the progress being made minute by minute by minute,” he said at the Capitol ceremony. “People were just glued to their monitors, watching the progress being made.”

He noted the recent passage of a 2.5 percent pay raise for unionized state workers.

“These are the faces of our employees who are behind me,” Duff said in the third floor Senate chamber, backed by lawmakers and a couple dozen DOT workers and Norwalk area first responders. “They are the ones who actually got this highway opened a day ahead of schedule."

Both the Senate and House applauded the workers.

The state Department of Transportation's traffic cams showed cars and trucks driving normally through the area Monday morning with no delays. 

State police said the crash involved the tanker, a tractor-trailer vehicle and a Chevrolet Camaro around 5:30 a.m. Thursday. All three vehicles were traveling in the southbound lanes when the crash occurred. 

The collision caused the tanker, which was carrying gasoline, to ignite. It ended up under the Fairfield Avenue bridge where its load of fuel burned furiously, covering both sides of the highway in bright orange flames. The scene was captured on video by people in the area and shared widely on social media. 

But despite the intense flames, the drivers of all three vehicles escaped without any reported injuries, according to state police.

Massive project to replace water main begins this week in Simsbury

Natasha Sokoloff

SIMSBURY — A months-long water main replacement project has begun in Simsbury, causing disrupted travel on several roads throughout town.

 Aquarion Water Co., a public water supply company, will be replacing approximately 12,450 feet of water main in town. The project began on Monday and is expected to be completed in October, according to town officials.

The replacement will be happening on six Simsbury roadways, including Red Stone Drive, Andrew Drive, Harriet Lane, Top View Drive, Hilltop Drive, and Butternut Lane in town.

The town has warned that residents should expect minor traffic delays and possible detours during the working hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. due to the construction. But Aquarion representatives have indicated that they will work closely with residents and businesses to minimize any disruptions, according to the town's announcement.

Final paving will be scheduled in coordination with the town, according to the Aquarion announcement.

Several other water main replacement projects are also happening throughout Connecticut as Aquarion aims to improve the water distribution system. Last summer, a similar Aquarion project took place in Simsbury, which replaced approximately 8,766 feet of water main. That began in July and was completed in the fall.

Simsbury also recently announced the roads that will tentatively be paved in the 2024 construction season, based on the proposed budget.

The roadways impacted are Basswood Lane, Humphrey Street, Candlewood Court, Katherine Drive, Clifdon Drive, Lionel Drive, Elaine Drive, Massaco Street, Fernwood Drive, Maureen Drive, Firetown Road (Hoskins to Scarborough Road), Oakwood Road, George Street, Phelpscroft Road (Fairview Street to Seminary Road), Gregory Lane, Quad Hill Road, Griffin Street, Seminary Road, Hamilton Lane, Short Lane, Highview Road, Tower Drive, and Hoskins Road (Clifdon Drive to Firetown Road).

Letters will be sent to residents of these streets notifying them of anticipated work, according to the Department of Public Works.

New application submitted to redevelop former UConn campus in West Hartford

David Krechevsky

Five months after withdrawing its application, WeHa Development Group LLC has submitted a new application to develop property at 1800 Asylum Ave. in West Hartford, the former site of UConn’s Greater Hartford campus.

The new wetlands application was filed with the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, in its capacity as Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, which will take it up under new business during a regular meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

Town Planner Todd Dumais said Monday that the agency will accept the application and schedule it for a public hearing at a date to be determined.

The new application was filed about a month after the Town Council approved a related four-building, 322-unit apartment complex for 1700 Asylum Ave., now the site of a massive parking lot formerly used by the school.

The 1800 Asylum Ave. site across Trout Brook Drive from the parking lot is approximately 33.5 acres and currently holds vacant, dilapidated buildings, including the former location of the UConn Law School. 

WeHa Development proposes demolishing the buildings to create a mixed-use “village” called Heritage Park that would include residential housing, an assisted living facility, retail shops, restaurants, and more.

According to a letter dated April 19 and addressed to the agency from Robin Pearson, a partner with the Glastonbury law firm Alter & Pearson LLC, the application seeks to conduct “regulated activities associated with the creation of a mixed-use village development along a new street internal to the site.”

The street would provide access to “various structures and uses including retail, restaurant, spa, organic grocery, and multifamily housing of diverse types” that would consist of townhomes, garden apartments, units above commercial/retail uses, and assisted living,” the letter states, adding the varied housing would appeal “to a broad residential market.”

The letter does not state the proposed number of housing units nor the size of the assisted living facility. The earlier proposal that was withdrawn in December was altered following a neighborhood meeting in September, with the number of townhouses reduced from 34 to 24 and the size of the assisted living facility reduced from 158,000 square feet to 108,000 square feet, dropping the number of units from 158 to 117, according to the Heritage Park website.

The property is limited “by the extensive area of grassed wetlands” located throughout the site, as well as by two man-made ponds in its center, the letter states. It also notes that “no new building or parking construction is proposed within a wetland except for the filling of a small, isolated wetland pocket of low-or-no functionality identified at the corner of Building #5.” 

It adds that “much of the development envelope is within the site’s upland review areas for which the regulated activity permit will also be required.”

The letter states the site will “undergo significant redevelopment to accommodate the proposed mixed-use village envisioned.”

In April, the Town Council approved the project for 1700 Asylum Ave. by an 8-1 vote. That project will transform the 23.78-acre property by developing four five-story buildings with a total of 322 apartment units, including 115 single-bedroom units and 207 two-bedroom units. Twenty-six of the units will be designated for affordable housing.

The council approved the project over the objections of a majority of residents who attended a five-hour public hearing right before the vote, including one resident who threatened a lawsuit if the proposal was approved.