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CT Construction Digest Tuesday October 12, 2021

Connecticut promoted a natural gas expansion plan in 2014 that was supposed to save taxpayers money. Natural gas prices are now soaring, promising a costly winter


In August 2014, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, officials from the Fairfield County town of Wilton and representatives of Yankee Gas celebrated the start of a large-scale natural gas expansion project estimated to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy recommended changes in energy efficiency, electricity supply, industrial energy requirements, transportation and natural gas. He promoted his plan to spur economic development, business growth and reduced costs in response to persistent complaints from homeowners and businesses about high energy prices.

A key part of the governor’s plan was to convert heating in homes and businesses to natural gas from oil, a strategy that Wilton embraced. Malloy announced in 2012 an ambitious goal of connecting 300,000 households to natural gas by 2020.

State officials reported in 2018 that 39,104 residential customers converted to natural gas for heating and 12,021 commercial and industrial customers shifted to natural gas for generation or other processes between 2014 and 2016.

But now, soaring natural gas prices are eliminating the rationale to abandon oil.

High natural gas prices promise a costly winter

In Wilton, all four of the town’s schools were hooked up to natural gas by 2016.

Local officials are now bracing for a costly winter as natural gas prices soar. Wilton has budgeted more than $500,000 for heating, up from $440,000 last year and about $300,000 before that, said Chris Burney, director of public works and facilities.

“In the next month or so we’ll decide if we have to pull money out of other areas to supplement the heating bill,” he said.

Part of the higher cost is due to fresh-air systems that run 24/7 in response to COVID-19 safety mandates. But rising natural gas prices also are responsible for the financial pain.

“I’m watching the market like everyone else,” Burney said.

Critics of the Malloy administration’s energy policies say consumers who spent thousands of dollars to convert to natural gas have little to show for their investment now that gas prices are spiking. As prices fluctuate, with gas and oil taking turns as the more expensive heating fuel, family-owned oil dealerships say that was always their point: Markets, not government, dictate commodity prices.

Gas pipeline construction has ‘not materialized’

In a February 2018 report, state energy officials said gas main installation has “not materialized at the rate the local distribution companies projected.” Utilities are not overbuilding, but are installing mains to meet current and near future customer demand, DEEP said.

In addition, with expanded use of fuel cells and other on-site power such as solar panels, “much of the anticipated residential natural gas demand” is shifting to the commercial and industrial sectors, that show greater demand, the state said.

Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas and Yankee Gas have installed about 381 miles of gas lines from 2014 to 2019, with 2020 information not yet reviewed, according to the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. The Malloy administration said in 2013 its goal over 10 years was to build about 900 miles of gas mains, focusing on factories, hospitals, schools and other buildings with significant energy consumption.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said in December that ratepayers are on the hook for about $64 million in higher gas costs for the expansion program. Risks of the program are “demonstrably greater” for ratepayers than the utilities’ shareholders, regulators said.

Meanwhile, with natural gas prices continuing to rise, “it doesn’t make sense for customers to make the switch,” said Shannon Laun, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that a natural gas bench mark in June and July was at its highest level for the same months since 2014. In the first week of October, the spot price jumped 5.7%.

The reasons include sharply higher prices in Europe due to rising demand as COVID-19 restrictions ease and less natural gas storage in the U.S. than last year due to a drop in production during the pandemic.

‘I told you so’

“This is definitely an I-told-you-so moment,” said Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, which represents oil dealers. “All this government picking winners and losers played out really poorly for consumers.”

Previous energy price swings have prompted consumers to take a second look at converting to natural gas. In 2015, cost savings between natural gas and oil shrank, leading to a more than 25% drop in conversions among residences and businesses.

Global oil prices also are rising as OPEC leaves supply restrictions unchanged, demand rises and a gas-to-oil switch is underway in response to high natural gas prices in Europe and Asia. Locally, Tuxis Ohrs Fuel in Meriden is charging $3 a gallon for oil, or $2.50 for customers who lock in their price, said Kate Childs, vice president of the 42-year-old family business.

She said she lost business due to a “ton of conversions” that included nurseries, greenhouses and schools.

Childs called the state program a “farce.”

“It was a 10-to-15 year horizon. They completely misled the consumer,” she said.

In their battle with Malloy, family-owned oil dealerships said the governor favored utility-owned gas companies over small businesses. Now they’re opposing the Lamont administration’s push for electric heat pump subsidies.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

A push for electrification and weatherization

Amy McLean, Connecticut director of the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group, said heat pump technology has expanded and improved over the past few years. Electrification and weatherization are common sense energy solutions and state policy should not give incentives to switch to gas, she said.

“At this point gas companies say natural gas is cleaner than oil,” McLean said. “It’s about the same or worse than oil because of leaks in pipelines.”

New England energy markets are expected to see significantly greater price volatility this winter compared to the “relative calm of the last couple of years,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association.

And that’s before the arrival of winter weather. Significant price volatility could result if extremely cold weather or storms plague New England, he said.

“This is not a new or unique situation,” he said. “There are some unique aspects to this one.”

The Brit in downtown New Britain promises to be 'urban oasis' with apartments, retail to attract younger crowd

Ciara Hooks

NEW BRITAIN – Those in attendance for the unveiling of the architectural rendering for The Brit had looks of amazement as Avner Krohn, chairman and CEO of Jasko Development, went over the rendering for the brand-new mixed-use development in detail.

“On the corner of Main and Bank Street, the new building will come out to the end of the lot. There will be a few spaces for loading and unloading, but parking is going to be in the garage,” he said. “The lower façade is kind of a rustic brick – think about the meat packing district in the city.”

The design of the building will consist of shades of grey and black with modern and contemporary materials.

“We want it to be fun, so there’s neon – The Brit sign is in neon,” Krohn said. “There is glazing on the entire corner of Main and Bank Street over here. People can choose to close their blinds or leave them open.”

There will be 60 studio units, 10 studio units with a den, 28 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units.

“Six stories, 100 plus units, a big deal for right here,” said Jack Benjamin, director of planning and development. “It’s all about the mission and the vision we have going forward for the city, which is to turn over these vacant parcels, activate them, and put them back into tax roles, and do something better for the community than what was done before.”

The apartments on the fifth and sixth floors will be pulled out from the building.

“This way the idea is people in the building are interacting with the people on the street, so we have activity in the downtown,” Krohn said.

The fifth story will have an outside terrace instead of a rooftop.

There will also be 5,600 square feet of retail space.

“Our goal is to have one to two restaurants on the Main and Bank side as well as on Main Street,” Krohn said. “Many of the storefronts here are going to open up for al fresco dining all around the building.”

There will be approximately 5,000 square feet of outdoor space as well.

“We’re calling it an ‘urban oasis’ that will be going 200 feet all the way up to Main Street,” Krohn said. “There will be outside restaurant seating, garden space and space for tenants. There’s going to be grills, cabanas, all kinds of landscaping and lighting. You’ll be able to see that from Main Street with controlled access.”

There’s a gym on the corner of Bank Street also visible to the public.

“Again, it will be an interaction between the residents that live here and the people here in downtown. It’s something very unique to have that much space smack in the middle of downtown; outdoor space in combination with a more urban project,” Krohn said.

Jasko and the city have been working the past seven or eight months on the $14 million project.

According to the city, the project is a beneficiary of a long-term tax modification deal and environmental remediation funding and the city leveraged its Tax Increment Financing program to help seed the development. The development will drive affordability across the market by broadening the residential tax base, the city said. The City shared they partner with good developers and are willing to offer tax deals to projects that are certain to provide large, long-term net gains for the Grand List.

“Most importantly for the city and the community, this project is going to have a ripple effect,” said. “All of the planning and work we’ve done to determine the highest and best use of this property downtown has pointed to a development like this.”

According to Gerry Amodio, executive director, New Britain Downtown District, this project will ultimately produce over $2 million in taxes and local spending per year.

“Everyone who lives in this apartment building will spend about 40% of their disposable income within one to two miles of where they live,” Amodio said. “This will support our businesses and community programs, and for those of us who could remember the urban renewal of downtown, The Brit is the future they always promised us.”

Danbury's $13M solar project is back, despite state grant uncertainty

Julia Perkins

DANBURY — Plans to install solar panels on school buildings are back before the education board, despite some concerns about state reimbursement.

The board will consider on Wednesday the education specifications for a solar system on King Street Intermediate School, one of several schools where panels are proposed.

School officials said last month that they would halt the $13 million project due to confusion over whether the state would provide a grant for the panels. But it appears the project could be eligible for a grant after all, so school officials have recommended the district apply.

“The worst they could say is no,” Rich Jalbert, coordinator of sites and facilities, told a school board committee late last week. “But we stand the chance of getting an $8 million reimbursement and not to mention the energy we would save on the solar panels.”

Danbury Mayor Joe Cavo said he was encouraged by the “positive” update he heard on the project last week, but that the city hasn’t decided what to do yet.

“I'm not going to recommend we do this project if we’re not going to get the reimbursement that we anticipated from the state that we were told we would get for doing this project,” he said Monday.

Danbury Library, as well as the high school and three middle schools, would get solar panels under the plan. Only the education buildings are eligible the state’s school construction grant, but Cavo said the library portion is on hold too until the school situation is resolved.

The about $5 million not covered by the state grant would be paid for through energy savings over almost nine years. This would come out of the city’s budget, not the school budget, Jalbert said.

Danbury has been working for months with a consultant, NV5, and Johnson Controls, an energy efficiency company, on the project.

But then Jalbert said someone from the state told him the schools wouldn’t be eligible for a grant because their roofs were too old. He has since talked to another state official who said that’s not necessarily true.

“We would be able to get reimbursed provided there is special protection involved in the installation of the solar panels, which Johnson Controls has assured us that they would do,” Jalbert told the school board.

The state wants to ensure the solar panels wouldn’t breach the warranty on schools’ roofs, the head of the state’s Office of School Construction Grants and Review told Hearst Connecticut Media last month. He said the state was preliminary reviewing Danbury’s project.

Jalbert said he’s gathering information the state has requested, including the age of the roofs.

Several of the roofs have been worked on in the last five years. The city completed a roof project at King Street Intermediate and Rogers Park Middle School by 2016, according to a March 2016 report to City Council. Broadview Middle School’s roof was replaced in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to a 2018 report from the city.

Danbury High School got a new roof as part of the $53 million expansion project completed in 2018. Westside Middle School was completed in 2014.

Some schools, such as Ellsworth Avenue and Park Avenue elementary schools, already have solar panels.

Once the city finishes the lease payments, the schools estimate saving $700,000 annually thanks to the new panels.

“At this point I don’t think we have anything to lose really,” Jalbert said. “There is no money at stake on our side from Johnson Controls.”

Stratford light industrial property sells for $8 million - roughly five times its appraised value

Ethan Fry

STRATFORD — A leading investor in retail developments has spent millions on a 1.6-acre property off Surf Avenue where Sunbelt Rentals is currently located.

Agree Stores, based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., paid $8 million for the property, at 85 Mead St., which is less than a half-mile from Exit 30 of I-95.

That’s roughly five times its town-appraised value of $1,533,100.

Messages left for the company were not returned.

Agree owns more than 1,200 properties across the country, totaling roughly 26 million square feet. The publicly traded real estate investment trust has a market capitalization of roughly $4.7 billion.

Nearby, the company owns the Home Depot in Orange, a CVS in Greenwich, an AutoZone in Danbury, and a Sherwin Williams in Brookfield.

The 85 Mead St. property also fronts Charles and Stagg streets, with Interstate 95 to the east. The land is zoned light industrial.

It was last sold for $1.3 million in 2014 to a limited liability company controlled by Stamford developer Gerard J. Kiley Jr.

Kiley referred questions to Agree.

Industrial park proposed for Southington

Jesse Buchanan

SOUTHINGTON — Local builders want to subdivide a Curtiss Street property to meet demand from small industrial companies.

Richard Munson, a local property owner, and Swavek Olchanowski, owner of CT Masons, want town approval for the plan. They’re looking to develop 136 Curtiss St., an industrial property with one small building that’s been used for storage recently.

“There are bigger old manufacturing buildings like the old Pratt & Whitney, but they’re kind of hard to subdivide,” Munson said. “What we’re hoping to build and be able to attract is people who want a four or five thousand square foot building or bigger.”

Town records list Virginia Cayer and Patrick Delahunty of Massachusetts as the property owners.

Demand for industrial space

Munson owns an industrial building at 172 Lazy Lane with tenants including construction companies, machine shops, tool distributors and mechanical contractors. He’s envisioning a similar mix of companies at the lots planned for the Curtiss Street property.

Proposed buildings in the industrial subdivision range from 7,000 square feet to over 20,000 square feet. Munson said he’s seen the demand firsthand when he has vacancies at his Lazy Lane property.

“As soon as the spaces become available, it seems like there’s always three or four people standing in line to get into this space,” he said.“In Southington, there seems to be a real lack of that kind of space.”

The concrete block building on the property now would be torn down. Munson said it’s in the way of the proposed roadway which would connect the lots on the long 22-acre property. Since the land is zoned industrial, Munson said companies could use the property for outside storage of trucks and other equipment.

Failed residential bid

Two years ago, town planners rejected a plan to rezone the property and build housing. Local home builder Mark Lovley proposed a 30-unit age restricted housing development.

Town leaders, including Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo, successfully fought the rezoning of industrial land. They argued that industrial land was valuable to the town’s tax base.

Michael DelSanto, a Town Council member and Economic Strike Committee chairman, said rezoned industrial land never returns to its original use. Industrial areas pay taxes but use fewer services than housing developments, helping to ease the tax burden on homeowners.

DelSanto also said there was demand and reason to keep industrial land zoned as it is.

“I love the whole idea of small machine shops and landscaping companies and light business coming to town,” he said. “The light industrial is coming, and we’ve got to find a spot for these folks.”

State Contracting Standards Board reviewing Mystic Oral School, Port Authority complaints

Kimberly Drelich

The State Contracting Standards Board is seeking answers regarding complaints related to two major projects in the region: the proposed redevelopment of the Mystic Oral School and the transformation of State Pier in New London.

The board, whose mission is "to require that state contracting and procurement requirements are understood and carried out in a manner that is open, cost effective, efficient and consistent with State and Federal statutes, rules and regulations," discussed updates on both issues at its meeting Friday.

The board is reviewing whether it has the authority to potentially disqualify Jeffrey Respler, who is proposing to redevelop the state-owned Mystic Education Center, for a period of time from "bidding on, applying for or participating as a contractor or subcontractor, under contracts with the state."

Executive Director David Guay said he is working with the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether or not the board has jurisdiction over the matter. No decisions have been made yet.

At last month's meeting, the board discussed the possibility of considering disqualification, due to a guilty plea by Respler in the state of New York. According to a news release from The City of New York Department of Investigation, Respler, as the owner of a plumbing company, pleaded guilty in 2004 to four counts of fifth-degree conspiracy, a Class A misdemeanor.

"Now before we move down that road, I want to make sure that we do this right, proper and lawful so I am currently discussing all of the matters involved with this review with the Office of the Attorney General," Guay said at Friday's meeting. He expects to have answers within a week. 

Guay told The Day that he could not comment on which contracts would be affected if the disqualification occurred because that is part of his review.

Respler has signed a purchase and sale agreement, which was extended to November 2022, with the state to buy the Mystic Education Center property for $1, providing criteria are met. He also had a lease for maintenance of the property, which ended in June.

Respler was chosen as the developer for the site after responding to a request for proposals. But the Town of Groton's Planning and Zoning Commission opposes the scale and density of the mixed-use development he has proposed.

State statute outlines a process in which after "reasonable notice and hearing and consultation with the relevant state contracting agency and the Attorney General," the State Contracting Standards Board, acting through a three-person subcommittee, "may disqualify any contractor, bidder or proposer, for a period of not more than five years, from bidding on, applying for or participating, as a contractor or subcontractor under, contracts of the state."

The process calls for the subcommittee to recommend, within 60 days of a hearing, whether or not it believes disqualification is warranted and for how long. If the subcommittee recommends disqualification, the contractor then would have 30 days to respond, and the board then has 30 days to either move forward with the recommendation, reject it or revise it.

Potential causes for disqualification include being convicted of, pleading guilty or admitting to "the violation of any state or federal law for embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, receiving stolen property or any other offense indicating a lack of business integrity or business honesty which affects responsibility as a state contractor."

The State Contracting Standards Board received an initial complaint on June 16 from Kevin Blacker of Noank requesting that the board review the contract and lease that the state entered into with Respler Homes. Blacker also provided a YouTube video.

"Respler was given $66,224/year from cellphone tower leases to prevent vandalism," Blacker wrote. "He obviously wasn't preventing vandalism as this video and others I have prove." The video showed vandalism at the property containing a racist slur and an obscenity.

Blacker and Mystic resident Van Brown both spoke about the Mystic Oral School during public comment at Friday's meeting.

State Department of Administrative Services spokesperson Lora Rae Anderson had said in June that Respler and the department came to a "mutual agreement not to renew" the 18-month lease after it expired. Ray Kehrhahn, consultant for Respler Homes, said the company did not push renewing the lease because it had accomplished what it needed to do, such as securing buildings and installing security cameras, on the long-vandalized property.

Anderson said Friday that "while the issues are generally related, the board's review was not a factor in our decision."

Separate from any state documents, the Town of Groton and Respler Homes in 2020 signed a development agreement.

Groton and Respler are in the "good faith negotiations" phase as they attempt to resolve a dispute over each other's responsibilities in the agreement, Town Manager John Burt said.

Connecticut Port Authority

Meanwhile, the State Contracting Standards Board plans to set up a meeting with the Connecticut Port Authority as part of an ongoing review of complaints.

State Contracting Standards Board member Lauren Gauthier — who also is a Groton Representative Town Meeting member — updated the board on Friday that she has received more documents related to the review of the port authority. For example, she has received documents, including an RFP response from a subsidiary of consultant Seabury Capital — the firm hired to, among other things, find an operator for State Pier in New London.

She said there still are items that the board needs, and one new document tends to lead to a question about a preceding or a follow-up document. A working group is putting together a list of questions and materials to request and speak to the port authority about.

"It's a good deal of information that still needs to be gone through, and I think a conversation with members of the port authority would be productive to help parse some of this out," Gauthier added.

State Contracting Standards Board Chairman Lawrence Fox said he heard some concerns expressed at a recent Connecticut Port Authority meeting about the standards board and that the board hasn't spoken to the port authority.

Fox explained that after the board received complaints about issues involving the port authority awhile ago, the board formed a working group and started reaching out to the complainants. The board planned to reach out to the CPA, but wanted to first see if the board had authority and suspended its investigation while seeking the opinion. The attorney general then issued a formal opinion that the board has very limited authority over quasi-public agencies, including the port authority.

The board went to the legislature and advocated for authority over quasi-public agencies, and the legislature decided that the port authority falls under the board's authority as a contracting agency. That decision became effective shortly before July 1.

"Once we found out for sure that we had the authority, we reassembled our work group and we’ve been collecting information, making information requests," he said. He offered assurances that the board has every intention of speaking with the port authority.  

The board wants to be in the position to make any recommendations — if it has any — in a timely manner for the upcoming legislative session, he said.

The port authority released a statement by email, saying it "looks forward to our future first meeting with the State Contracting Standards Board (SCSB) to better understand the context of their prior requests for information."

"Despite requests for documents from SCSB late last year and in mid-September, we have not yet been engaged by SCSB in any discussion. The Authority has continued to provide them with all the information requested," the statement continued. "In our response to their most recent information request, we noted that it would be helpful to also review our Procurement Policies and Procedures as a starting point. It is our understanding that this is a foundational role that SCSB now has responsibility to undertake and a necessary precondition to provide context to assess individual procurements. We look forward to working collaboratively with SCSB to ensure the Authority's policies meet state standards."

Downtown Hartford properties, including vacant fire house, move closer to redevelopment

Terence Corcoran

The Capital Regional Development Authority helped the city of Hartford move one step closer to selling two downtown properties to a developer with plans to convert them into apartments.

The CRDA’s Housing and Neighborhood Committee on Friday approved two loans that will enable New York-based Wonder Works Construction to purchase and renovate city-owned properties at 525 Main St., and 275 Pearl St.

Each building is about 32,000 square feet.

The loans are funded by a municipal revolving fund but the CRDA will administer them. It’s part of an agreement by the CRDA and Hartford to partner on economic development in the city.

“These are projects the city is going to fund and asked CRDA to service and manage,” CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said.

The Hartford City Council must approve selling the buildings to Wonder Works.

The city wants $425,000 for 525 Main St., across from City Hall. A $7.8 million redevelopment would convert it to 42 residential units, including nine affordable apartments, and maintain 2,750 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Funding for the $7.8 million would include a $3.2 million bank loan and a $2.1 million municipal loan that CRDA would administer.

The city also wants to sell Wonder Works a vacant firehouse at 275 Pearl St. The $9.4 million project would create 39 market rate apartments and 4,000 square feet of retail space. Wonder Works has already signed a restaurant letter of intent.

The $360,000 sales price requires Wonder Works to undertake any necessary environmental remediation.

Funding for the $9.4 million project includes a $3 million bank loan, $2.4 million CRDA residential loan and $450,000 CRDA retail fit out loan, both of which are funded by the municipal revolving fund. The restaurant owner will also invest $230,000, Freimuth said.

Historic credits and equity will round out funding for each project. In each project, the city will defer payment of the sale price as well as taxes. The projects will be done in tandem.

“We think these are important properties to get redeveloped, bring back to life and get occupied,” Mayor Luke Bronin said. “It’s the right long-term move for the cities and these properties.”

The developments are expected to take up to two years to complete, Freimuth said.

As part of the deal, Wonder Works will also have an option on two vacant city-owned lots at 17 and 21 Wells St.

As $80 million wing opens at Hartford Hospital, the hospital looks to its next major construction project: a patient care tower


HARTFORD — As Hartford Hospital welcomes the first patients to its new, $80 million wing, the hospital is actively planning for what could be the next major building project on its campus: a modern tower of patients rooms that will be specialized by floor, depending on the type of health need.

“So, it will be similar to what we did with the Bone & Joint Institute: spaces designed around our patients and families with the support of a very specific level of expertise, all private rooms and each aspect of it designed for health and wellness,” said Jeff Flaks, the chief executive of Hartford HealthCare, the parent of Hartford Hospital and six others in the state.

Flaks said it is too early to say how many stories the new structure might have, where it might be located on the campus — “we have ideas,” he said — how much it might cost or a timeline for construction.

“But it will be a tower,” Flaks said, adding later: “This hospital is 166 years old. We have to be constantly reinventing and rebuilding it, and that is what is happening at this moment.”

Flaks looked to the future of the Hartford campus during a tour for The Courant on Thursday of the new wing — a 50,000-square-foot expansion of the Bliss Building. The wing is the largest construction project on the campus since the $150 million Bone & Joint Institute orthopedic center opened in 2016.

The new Bliss wing was planned entirely for patient care and will focus sharply on those with most critical, or acute, needs. The four-story structure includes state-of-the-art, high-tech intensive care rooms with new and more conveniently located MRI scanning equipment than can dramatically cut down on test times. It also includes large operating rooms — still under construction — to accommodate the trend toward minimally invasive robotic surgery that often requires massive, complex machinery.

“This had to happen before [the new tower] could happen because we needed more critical care, we needed more high-end operating rooms and we needed more high-end interventional services,” Flaks said. “So this being developed now enables [the new tower] to go into strategic planning.”

The need for the new wing also comes amid a sea change in how hospitals are expected to deliver services in the future. Flagship hospital campuses will focus on patients with more significant health concerns. An increasing volume of services will be rendered at local satellite sites also run by the hospital with the two integrated so medical records can be shared.

In addition to its seven hospitals, Hartford HealthCare now has 400 locations in Connecticut. One of its newest under construction is at the corner of Park Road and South Main Street in West Hartford.

“The hospital has to become much more acute, and the community center have to become more accessible,” Flaks said.

Increasing hospital capacity

Construction on the new wing started in late 2019 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We were counting the days during COVID when this building would come online because this is exactly what is necessary to support this community. Whether it’s a mass casualty or a pandemic, a building built with these capabilities will allow us to very readily support this community,” Flaks said.

Beds in recovery are equipped with the technology to easily convert them for intensive care patients, right down to being separated by walls rather than curtains.

“The technology built here can be as high as the intensive care units,” David Fichandler, senior director of clinical operations, said. “We can provide the same level of care here if we needed to ramp up in a true emergency scenario.”

The new wing was designed to seamlessly connect with the older, 1960s Bliss Building and bring services closer to where they are needed most.

Two new, high-tech MRI scanners — with a third still pending state approval — are placed close to the emergency department to ease the logjam of patients.

The first floor location will eliminate circuitous trips to the basement of the adjacent Jefferson Building where the MRI scanners are now located and eventually will be decommissioned.

The new MRIs, each costing $3 million, have wider tubes into which patients are slid and scan faster particularly for patients that are uncomfortable with tight spaces. A scan that now takes 30 minutes could be reduced to as little as 7 minutes, Fichandler said.

There are 18 intensive care units on the second and third floors that will increase the hospital’s ICU capacity by nearly 20% to 105.

The new rooms are designed to be bigger — in some cases, double the size — of a traditional ICU room. Mechanized arms, or “booms,” suspended from ceiling joists eliminate the need to have equipment rolling on the floor.

“This room gives enough space, if it is possible, for families to stay with a critical care patient,” Adam C. Steinberg, vice president of medical affairs at Hartford HealthCare. said. “In the past, you usually don’t have space to do that.”

Flaks said space for family members to rest or spend the night — including couches and even chairs that convert to beds — were partly drawn from suggestions from donors, who contributed more than $5 million to the wing.

Family waiting rooms have furniture with built-in charging stations for phones and laptops, a first for the hospital.

“It’s a nice-to-have, but what we’ve heard from families who are here for a prolonged period of time — days, weeks — it’s a really important thing to have. If it’s in the wall, you’re tied to that spot. Here, at least, we can do it comfortably.”

Growing for the future

The quiet of the first three floors of new wing is broken by the construction on the top floor where new operating rooms are being built.

The hospital hopes eventually to have five operating rooms in the new wing — two are still pending state approval — bringing the hospital’s total to 48.

The new surgery spaces are about 1,000 square feet, double the size of a traditional operating room, with rooms off them for running technology and tracking imaging.

“It’s counter-intuitive,” Flaks said. “You think about these very tiny incisions and minimally invasive cases, but you need these huge machines. In the old days, you were making these big incisions, but you could do them in small rooms.”

Steinberg said the large space also acknowledges that technology is constantly evolving.

“This also allows us to grow into the future, knowing how innovation happens,” Steinberg said.

With space at the new middle/high school an issue, Torrington school board considers eliminating lockers


TORRINGTON — When students arrive at the new Torrington Middle/High School, they may not be heading to their lockers to put their personal belongings away. Instead, they could be carrying their belongings around with them throughout the school day.

Eliminating student lockers in the hallways of the grade 7-12 school is being considered by the Board of Education and project architects from SLAM Collaborative to gain more class space devoted to electives. Other options are also being weighed.

Doing away with lockers is becoming more common in schools nationwide, and such a move could save about an estimated 1,580 square feet, said Amy Christmas, academic programmer and planner for SLAM.

“It was suggested to me in one of my other projects, and I thought it was crazy,” Samuelson told the school board last week. “It is something to consider, but it could save a couple of thousand square feet.”

Board member Jess Richardson said eliminating lockers may cause some problems when students leave materials in a classroom.

There are 26 core academic classrooms in the high school portion of the building for 36 core classroom teachers, Christmas said. That means teachers will have to share class space. There are other building spaces that offer flexible class space, she said.

“If teachers don’t have their own classroom, and you have a reduction in teacher storage space, you may see kids start to use their lockers again,” Richardson said. “I would be in favor of reducing the number of lockers and having kids request a locker.”

Project architects have designed a 306,346-square-foot building, including the outside face of exterior walls. About 285,625 square feet is the total building area, which is 12,743 square feet above the state’s target allowable area.

The state allows 171 square feet of allowable area per student which has the high school at an estimated 161,484 square feet based on 935 students, said Amy Samuelson, associate principal for SLAM. The current Torrington High School at 50 Major Besse Drive is 227,576 square feet.

As project architects have looked to attain the state’s targeted allowable area, they have eliminated elective space for automotive and construction technology, part of the hi-tech manufacturing/STEM pathway in the high school’s career-and-college pathway program.

That move has received criticism from the school board and building committee members who say they want to ensure automotive and construction technology classes are offered. It reduced the school by about 5,100 square feet.

Samuelson said she understands the desire to put in additional space for pathways but the allowable area needs to be considered as it determines how much state reimbursement the city receives for the project.

“You are allowed to build as large of a building as you’d like,” she said, “but the reimbursement from the state will go down incrementally for every amount over the allowable that you build, potentially.”

City voters approved the $159.5 million project last November.

The city is slated to receive an 85% state reimbursement for the project, up from the 62% rate voters approved. The state’s share is about $135.6 million and the city’s share is about $23.9 million. Voters had faced an initial $74.5 million cost.

Other options project architects and school board members are considering include seventh- and eighth-graders sharing a library media center with high school students, changing to four lunch waves, and reducing lockers for high school athletics and physical education.

The board didn’t approve there being a shared cafeteria servery which would have had middle and high school students being in the same line for lunches.

Board member Ed Corey said he would rather see lockers eliminated than a shared media library center since separation between middle and high school students was an essential part of the referendum.

“The community and the parents of these students have been assured time and again that there would be few opportunities for their children to intermingle,” he said. “We have to hold on to that.”