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CT Construction Digest Tuesday October 26, 2021

Stamford's soon-to-be $81.7M, 928-spot commuter garage project gets official debut

Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — The road to a new commuter garage in Stamford has been far from smooth, but on Monday morning, Connecticut officials celebrated finally moving forward on the perennially postponed project.

Five years after a deal to reimagine the Stamford Transportation Center and its dilapidated state garage fell apart, Gov. Ned Lamont, Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti and a bevy of elected officials gathered to showcase one of the Northeast’s busiest train stations into the 21st century by building a new commuter garage.

“Parking should not be a hassle,” Lamont said from a podium just across the street from the garage-in-progress while flanked by Stamford Mayor David Martin, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., and Stamford’s delegation to the state legislature. “Parking should be something that's easy, affordable, with a lot of capacity. That's what we're doing right here.”

Engineering crews have already broken ground on the 928-spot garage, a project that will cost the state $81.7 million, according to Giulietti. The entire edifice, which will feature a bridge that directly connects with one of the train platforms through an enclosed pedestrian way, is scheduled for completion in summer 2023.

The multi-million dollar car depot will encompass only a fraction of what the state originally planned to replace in 2013. The Department of Transportation that year struck a deal with a private developer to create a $500 million office, housing, retail and hotel complex beside the train station and move commuter parking a quarter-mile away. That proposal drew ire from commuters, who wanted the state to rebuild the existing garage instead.

The new building on Washington Boulevard will replace the existing state garage on Station Place, a 36-year-old structure plagued by problems since the beginning. The state plans to demolish the more structurally deficient half of the garage once the new parking facility is completed.

“This is prime real estate,” Giulietti said of the parcel. “We're looking to go and attract investors so that we can offset some of our costs for going into an operation by maybe putting in something there that will generate funds for the system.”

Even during the pandemic, the Stamford Transportation Center has remained one of the most frequented locations in the Metro-North railroad system. Data from the system shows that more than 8.4 million people rode Metro-North trains from the Stamford Transportation Center in 2016, making it the second-busiest station behind Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

After seeing a 95 percent reduction in ridership during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the passenger count has since bounced back and hovers at around 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi said at the ceremony. Almost two years after the virus first took hold, 175 trains a day stop at Stamford station. Weekend train service is completely back to normal, and on the weekdays 82 percent of the usual trains visit the stop, she said.

Though creating a better place for cars is the most obvious component of the garage redesign, the future of multi-modal transportation in Stamford was also front and center during the celebration.

Though future plans for the transportation center itself are still incomplete, the state plans to repave and redesign all the roads surrounding the garage and the train station, according to Giulietti. The paving would create dedicated feeder paths for the buses, taxi cabs and rideshares that frequent the station.

On top of that, he said, the new garage will bring pedestrian improvements to the streets to facilitate both walking and biking. The project will also connect nearby pedestrians to the planned Mill River Greenway, the project that will connect Stamford from the South End to Mill River Park.

Ed specs approved for $24 million project to make Old Greenwich School accessible, safe

Ken Borsuk

GREENWICH — A $24 million plan to renovate and expand Old Greenwich School in a project that would solve problems ranging from accessibility to flooding has moved a step closer to reality.

The specifications, which serve as guidance for drawing up the architectural plans, call for three new kindergarten classrooms, a new first grade classroom, upgrades to the HVAC system, renovations to a multipurpose room, a resource room, accessibility at the main entrance, security upgrades and outdoor improvements.

An elevator would also be added that is “accessible on all levels” to solve a long-standing problem in the school building.

“We really focused on fixing this school with respect to health, safety and putting the classrooms back in good shape without flooding,” Karen Kowalski, a member of the project’s feasibility committee, said at Thursday’s school board meeting. “What we have come up with here is an ed spec that meets those needs and does not drive for any fancy extras. I was proud of the group that came up with this. We worked very hard on this and this is what the community wants.”

The Board of Education unanimously approved the guidelines at its meeting last Thursday. The next step is to seek approval for the project.

Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones is expected to request $1.5 million in the proposed 2022-23 school budget for the design work. That would require approval from the Board of Education, Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting through next year’s budget process.

The proposed school budget, scheduled to be unveiled Nov. 4, is also slated to include money for improvements at Julian Curtiss School.

If the design money were approved for Old Greenwich School, then the construction money would be requested in a budget for a later fiscal year, either 2023-24 or 2024-25. Only then would construction begin on the project.

The final cost of the construction has not been determined, but the preliminary budget is slated at $24 million.

School dates back a century

The Old Greenwich School dates to 1902, with additions built in 1950, 1957 and 1995 and a renovation completed in 1993. No significant capital projects have been completed at the school for 25 years.

The planned renovations have become a priority for many school officials and parents, particularly on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Old Greenwich School Principal Jennifer Bencivengo told the school board that approval to fully fund the renovations was her “birthday wish.”

“This is a request for a safe, ADA-compliant building with adequate HVAC and air quality,” Bencivengo said. “Our committee’s proposal is not for a building with excessive extras or bells and whistles. It is the bare minimum for what we need to provide a safe learning environment for all our students, teachers and staff.”

With portions of the building below sea level, sewage flooding is a frequent problem, with three such incidents since July, Bencivengo said.

And because the school is not ADA-complaint, she told of staff members forced to carry children with injuries to the nurse’s office, she said. Also, the temperature inside the old building can soar so high hot days that it can trigger fire alarms that require students and staff to evacuate, Bencivengo said.

Support for the plan

Parents also spoke at the school board’s public hearing in support of the educational specifications.

PTA President Erica Jacoby said that after her daughter once fell from the playground’s climbing bars and had to be carried to the nurse’s office. And she said she saw a boy on crutches who had to be supported by his mother while entering the school building.

“This was just the start of a 7-year-old’s day,” Jacoby said. “I can only imagine how he fared navigating the stairs from his second floor classroom to the ground floor cafeteria, art and music rooms multiple times during the day. How different these situations could have been in an ADA-compliant building.”

But Jacoby and others added that the proposed budget had been reduced and complained it would invest only the “bare minimum” needed for the school.

Board Chair Peter Bernstein said the ed specs were “great” but also expressed his concern about “what we’re not doing.” He asked about the building’s walls and ceilings, pointing to the ceiling collapse and flood at North Mianus School last winter, which caused millions of dollars in damage.

“That is something the board going forward will certainly need to think about as you move these projects forward in the older buildings,” Bernstein said. “This building was designed before 1900. I just worry about the very older parts of the building where we slapped on some paint, maybe put a drop ceiling in, but really didn’t pay attention to what’s going on.”

Russell Davidson of KG&D Architects, who put together the specifications, said the four new classrooms would not expand capacity at the school because part of the building would be reconfigured.

“One room is needed because we’re going to move the main office down to the ground floor,” Davidson said. “Two rooms are undersized, are not accessible and prone to flooding, and one existing room is undersized and we need that room to cut through to make the corridor to the new addition.”

Wetlands OK brings Shelton's Mas land development one step closer

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Extending Constitution Boulevard West is one step closer to fruition — and with it the development of the city-owned Mas property.

The Inland Wetlands Commission, in a 6-0 vote in a special meeting Thursday, approved the city’s permit application for extension of the roadway, with street construction occurring within regulated wetlands areas.

Extending the roadway and use of the Mas property has been on the table for years, but Mayor Mark Lauretti began the most recent push in April when he presented preliminary plans for creating the road leading into the city-owned land, which would be developed into a manufacturing corporate park.

Lauretti has stated that one major manufacturer — whose name he would not give because negotiations are ongoing — is seeking a 270,000-square-foot building on the property. Negotiations have been going on for about a year, and he said he hoped a deal could be struck within the coming days.

He said the plans remain in the initial stages, with proposals still needed to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the State Traffic Commission.

“We are working with the state on a grant for the road construction,” Lauretti said. “I have spoken to (Gov. Ned Lamont), and he said he’s onboard.”

Lauretti has stated that the road work would cost between $10 million and $12 million. Bids are out now, he said, and once those come in, he will have a better idea what the state will cover and what the city will pay. He said he expects a groundbreaking for the extension this spring.

The application approved by Inland Wetlands Thursday is for phase one roadway construction only, with a portion of Bridgeport Avenue to be widened along with intersection improvements. Portions of Cots Street and Blacks Hill Road will be also be reconstructed as part of this project.

This work also calls for the city to purchase 55 and 56 Blacks Hill Road, according to the application submitted to Inland Wetlands.

Plans on the city website show an extended roadway with seven separate lots, one of which is 10.6 acres of designated open space. In all, there is a 276,250-square-foot building, two 105,000-square-foot buildings, and two 34,250-square-foot buildings, along with related parking for each separate structure.

The 70-acre parcel — known as the Mas property — sits near Bridgeport Avenue, and the roadway plans include extending Constitution Boulevard to reach Shelton Avenue/Route 108. Lauretti stated that a zone change would be needed, requiring plans to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission at some point.

In 1988, the P&Z approved a Planned Development District for most of the Mas property that included four 10-story office buildings and an 82-unit residential condominium.

The project collapsed in the real estate crash of the late 1980s. The lead development entity was Citytrust, a Bridgeport-based bank that no longer exists.

The city bought the land after it went into foreclosure and got an adjoining small parcel once environmental remediation was completed.

That Planned Development District designation has since expired. Lauretti said a new zone change request would call for the property to move to light industrial or another similar zone. Much of the land is zoned residential.

The Mas property is now vacant. It is mostly wooded with considerable stone ledges and several ponds, including one some 600 feet long and 250 to 300 feet wide, and lies between Bridgeport Avenue, Cots Street, Tisi Drive, Sunwood Condos on Nells Rock Road, Regent Drive, Walnut Avenue, and Kings Highway. Part of the land abuts the back of the Perry Hill School property.

Meriden Markham Airport reopens after runway work

Michael Gagne

MERIDEN — Meriden Markham Municipal Airport is once again buzzing with the hum of airplane propellers. 

After a $1.88 million reconstruction of the airport’s runway and taxiway, a job that took just shy of two months, takeoffs and landings resumed this week.

The daily buzz of airplane propellers is something Constance Castillo, manager of Meriden Markham, said she had missed. The airport’s last flight before the project was on Aug. 23. 

Castillo explained the upgrades had been badly needed. Prior to the project, the airport’s 3,100-foot-long and 75-foot-wide runway was last repaved more than 15 years ago and beyond its useful life.

The work included new LED lighting and drainage improvements. 

The first flight since the project began was on Wednesday, said Castillo, who was joined by Mayor Kevin Scarpati, City Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks and other officials for a ceremonial ribbon cutting celebrating the new runway and taxiway on Friday. 

The project’s entire cost was covered by a Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program grant. Castillo said the grants typically require a 10% local match, which was waived.

Officials said the project began and ended on time. In fact, it was completed a day ahead of schedule. This week, the tenants, most of whom were displaced to other airports while the project was underway, had returned. 

The project was helped by fortuitous weather — work began around the time Hurricane Henri, by then a tropical storm, arrived in New England. The storm minimally impacted the region. 

Scarpati said the fact the project was completed on time and under budget was a credit to the contractors who carried out the work. 

Jelks, who serves as the CIty Council’s liaison to the Aviation Commission, credited the airport’s staff for keeping the facility “alive and viable.”

Jelks said the airport is “a critical part of who Meriden is and where we’re going and what we want to do. We’re so grateful for all the work that goes into the airport and all the work that goes into updating it for the future.”

Mark Poole, owner of the Meriden Aviation Center school that operates at the airport, described the past two months as having been rough for the center’s instructors and students.

But classes are getting back to normal. “We just moved the airplanes back… We just reopened yesterday,” Poole said. “Flights will be going out.”

Lt Col. Jim Whitesell, vice commander of Connecticut Wing Civil Air Patrol, was similarly elated. 

Whitesell said Civil Air Patrol, a public service organization that carries out emergency services and disaster relief missions in the air and on the ground, had been an airport tenant for longer than he knew. 

Abby Weaver, of Southington, is a cadet with the patrol. She attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, with the hopes of becoming a pilot in the military, flying C-17 cargo aircraft. 

The 18-year-old said it’s good to be back at Meriden Markham. 

“I definitely missed it. I’m glad to be home,” Weaver said. 

Bartlem Park South project on ballot in Cheshire

Mariah Melendez

CHESHIRE — In the upcoming election, residents will have the opportunity to vote on two questions, one of which will decide whether the community moves forward with the Bartlem Park South project.

The plan, focused on the property next to Bartlem Park, often referred to as the Chapman Property, would extend the park to the south and turn it into a multi-use town field and center.

The $14.87 million proposal was presented to the public back in January. For this referendum, however, the public will be voting on whether to allocate $7.9 million for phase one of the plan.

The town has also decided it would use $2 million of the funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act to help offset some of the costs of the first phase. 

“This plan is really a result of what we heard at our community engagement meetings,” said Ryan Chmielewski, a representative of the engineering firm Weston & Sampson, during an initial meeting back in January. “We tried to make sure everyone’s voices were heard. We heard from the environmentalists who wanted a ‘do-nothing’ plan—we (listened to) neighbors who showed great concern (about) the backfield and lights, so they are not right up against bordering properties.”

Prior to the January presentation, Weston & Sampson held a number of public hearings for residents to express their concerns and suggestions. The final proposal includes the construction of a variety of field and performance spaces, as well as expanded parking, lighting, and drainage improvements for the entire park.

Town Manager Sean Kimball also expressed his excitement over the possibilities of improving upon the yearly Cheshire Chamber Fall Festival & Marketplace, which is held at Bartlem Park each year and is one of the biggest events in town.

Phase one would include establishing a town green community space, great lawn with an outdoor entertainment venue, multi-purpose synthetic athletic field with field lighting, an additional restroom pavilion, a network of walking paths, stormwater management, and an increase of existing parking by up to 165 spaces. 

A highly anticipated portion of the Bartlem Park South project is the proposal for the creation of a Town Green, something which Cheshire is currently lacking. 

“One of the biggest components of this is giving the town something that it's lacking right now, which is a dedicated Town Green,” Chmielewski explained to the Town Council back in January. 

The second referendum question is focused on road improvements, something which the Town Council has put out for referendum the past few years. 

The improvements are set to cost the town $1.7 million and will include road treatments such as restoration, milling and paving, chip seal, microseal, crack seal and other surface treatments, as well as the implementation of a concrete curb replacement program, and associated project costs.