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CT Construction Digest Wednesday January 19, 2022

Gold Star Bridge in New London in need of rehabilitation VIDEO

(WFSB) – The largest bridge in Connecticut, the Gold Star Bridge in New London, is in poor condition.

New London officials stress that the bridge is safe to drive on, but it needs upgrades.

Upgrades are needed on the northbound side of the bridge, as the southbound side has already been upgraded.

As of right now, oversized and overweight loads like dump trucks are not able to use the bridge.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the bridge’s current condition is a four out of nine.

Priti Bhardwaj, a Connecticut Department of Transpiration supervising engineer, says, this rating is significant.

“Four means it’s in poor condition,” says Bhardwaj.

This rating is because part of the bridge has outlived its performance years, and maintenance is not enough at this point.

“It is perfectly safe for travel, it’s just an indicator that some kind of rehabilitation should be necessary,” says Bhardwaj.

Bhardwaj is the lead engineer in charge of the rehabilitation for the bridge.

“The bridge is going to be undergoing major rehabilitation and strengthening,” Bhardwaj says.

Officials say it is a massive undertaking for such a large structure. The span of bridge on the northbound side is nearly 80-years old and was built with materials that are beyond their lifespan.

The bridge covers 6,000 linear square feet, more than a mile. The deck area, the surface people drive on, is around 500,000 square feet.

55,000 vehicles drive across the bridge per day.

Officials say most of the work will be done underneath the bridge, reinforcing or strengthening the structure with plating.

“It’s going to take a while. It’s very expensive,” says Bart Sweeny with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Sweeny is the CDOT’S division chief. Sweeny says the project is a multi-year and multi-phase project and will cost $300 million.

“The first two phases of this project will address the strengthening of this bridge, as well as some of the conditions,” Sweeny says.

According to officials, phase one will start this spring, and take about three years to complete. Phase two will start in 2025, and it will focus on the approach spans and garters on either side. Phase three will consist of work on the deck.

According to engineers, when the work is complete, people will not be able to see or notice a physical difference in the bridge. They say once the work is done, the bridge will be safer and stronger.

“It will look the same. We are not changing the structure system out here, we are strengthening the systems that’s in place,” says Sweeny.

“It is needed. It is worth it. We have to bring this bridge back to a state of good repair,” Bhardwaj says.

Officials say the entire bridge will be rehabilitated by 2030.

Torrington residents asked to vote on more money for school project

Emily M. Olson

TORRINGTON — Residents will be asked on Jan. 25 to approve borrowing an additional $20 million for the Torrington middle-high school building project, which was approved for $159 million in 2021.

The referendum question reads: “Shall the City of Torrington appropriate an additional $20,000,000 (thereby increasing the appropriation and bond authorization approved by the voters on Nov. 3, 2020 from $159,575,000 to $179,575,000) for the construction of a new high school, a new middle school, a new central administrative office, and for the demolition of the existing Torrington High School.”

The referendum will be held at City Hall only, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Residents can read the referendum description at www.torringtonct.org/.../explanatory_text_jan_25...

Absentee ballot applications are available now at the City Clerk’s office. Applications may be dropped off at the City Clerk's office during regular business hours, deposited in the white Elections box outside of City Hall or mailed to the City Clerk, 140 Main St. Torrington, CT 06790.

Voters in November 2020 approved building a new middle-high school and administrative offices for $159 million. Earlier this year, the state legislature announced that instead of 65 percent reimbursement for all eligible costs for the project, that amount would be increased to 85 percent.

When the school building project was approved in 2020, residents voted in favor of spending $159.6 million, with the expectation that, with about $85 million in state reimbursement, the city’s share would be lowered to $74.6 million. With the higher reimbursement, the city’s share was reduced to $28 million.

But in spite of receiving more state funding, the building committee said recently that the project is over budget. Committee Co-Chairmen Mario Longobucco and Ed Arum told the City Council in December that the district’s enrollment has increased significantly, which will add to the overall footprint of the new facility. That, coupled with escalating construction and materials costs, have resulted in the project running over budget.

“The bottom line is, the project was approved pre-pandemic,” Longobucco said at the time. “We had 71 percent of the voters approve it. We’ve done preliminary designs, based on state requirements, and we find ourselves in a position where the money that was approved, pre-pandemic, is no longer sufficient to deliver the type of school we want.

“This year alone, there are 137 new students in grades 7-12, that were not here pre-pandemic,” he said. “Construction costs $525 per square foot. And as we all know, everything’s going up. Materials costs have gone up. ... So we had to go back to the drawing board.”

Arum said the district’s total enrollment increased to 267 students in grades K-12, as of Oct. 1, 2021. The state requires a certain amount of square footage per student in a school building; if expected or projected enrollment is up, the building must be made larger, Longobucco said.

Arum said in December that the increased enrollment is something that could stall the whole plan, unless the city acts quickly and adds the $20 million to the budget, then holds a referendum for taxpayers to approve it — hopefully.

Mayor Elinor Carbone pointed out that the project has a two-year timeline to get “shovels in the ground.”

Rare new development takes shape adjacent to Darien train station

Alexander Soule

DARIEN — At the former site of a Stop & Shop opposite the Metro-North Noroton Heights station, a big new development is taking shape that will include a number of dining options familiar to people on both ends of the commute in Connecticut and New York City.

Federal Realty Investment Trust’s Darien Commons is the largest retail plaza in years to be built adjacent to a station on the New Haven Line or any of its branches.

Darien Commons will come online in advance of the massive Corbin District project that will reshape downtown a short distance away. Farther up the line in Norwalk, Building & Land Technology is planning to follow up its new Curb apartment complex with the larger North Seven development, which would add several new buildings with ground-floor retail, extending north from the Merritt 7 station of the Danbury branch.

With Walgreens in place along with an existing Equinox fitness club next door, about two dozen more stores and eateries will begin opening at Darien Commons starting this summer, on a staggered schedule extending into 2023. The complex is a short walk from Palmer’s Market and an adjacent retail plaza that is slated for an overhaul.

The upper levels are reserved for about 120 apartments split between one- and two-bedroom units, with rows of windows to flood interiors with light.

Federal Realty will not finalize its initial lease rates until this spring, according to Patrick McMahon, senior vice president of regional development. He anticipates one-bedroom units likely topping $3,000 a month.

“In the two-bedroom units, there are larger kitchens than certainly what you would find in Stamford or Norwalk,” McMahon said. “It’s important to somebody who’s either got a small family, or had a family that’s left and the kitchen was the center of activity.”

The development includes a small “hotel” apartment that can be reserved by residents as guest quarters for out-of-town visitors. McMahon said he expects other developers will adopt the model for future projects.

Of the two main apartment buildings, one will have a big outdoor deck with common seating, fire pits and grills, flanked by two spacious patios that can be reserved for private use. The other building will include a plaza with plenty of seating and other amenities.

The complex includes an underground garage for residents and surface parking for people visiting Darien Commons to shop, dine or work out.

The storefront lineup includes a mix of familiar names in Connecticut and the Northeast, including Pizzeria Molto in Fairfield, Oath Pizza, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, the Sweetgreen salad chain, the French cafe Tartinery and Gregory’s Coffee.

More will be announced in the coming weeks.

“It all needs to work together — and that’s what makes it work,” said Stuart Biel, senior vice president of regional leasing for Federal Realty.

Includes prior reporting by Paul Schott.

Completion of trail work waiting on Yardedeal

Jesse Buchanan

SOUTHINGTON — Town officials are hopeful about negotiation with a Newell Street company, the last step before construction can begin on Southington’s final section of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.

The rails-to-trails line is complete from the southern end of town to Lazy Lane. The State Department of Transportation is ready to finish the trail from there to the Plainville town line, town officials said, but have been held up in talks with Yarde Metals over an easement across company property.

Mike DelSanto, a Town Council Republicans and public works committee chairman, said talks have gone on for nearly a year.

“My concern is that this is holding us up,” DelSanto said. “I totally respect their judgment and their opinion. It’s a private business. I’m just hoping we can come to terms… People use this trail, we see it all the time. Middle of the winter, people are out there snowshoeing on it.”

Negotiations and proposals

​​​Paul Chaplinsky, a Town Council Republican and public works committee vice chairman, said he’s glad that Yarde Metals owners haven’t shut the door to talks altogether. Proposals have gone back and forth between state officials and town engineers and the company.

Chaplinsky and DelSanto said the company is worried about allowing the trail and then needing parking or space to expand. The trail would cut across company property and state officials are looking to get an agreement for an easement.

Yarde Metals would retain ownership of the property but allow the trail to be built and maintained.

Chaplinsky said the latest proposal is under consideration by Yarde Metals. He was hopeful about the results.

“I’m really appreciative that the owners of the business are considering alternatives,” he said. “They didn’t close the door.

“I think that’s more positive than negative. I think there’s genuine interest to get the connectivity,” Chaplinsky added.

Chris Palmieri, a Town Council Democrat, said the trail was heavily used by area residents and that he “absolutely” believed it would be finished. With a proposal under consideration by Yarde Metals, he didn’t know if there was any more the town could do.

Eminent domain?

Town officials didn’t think the state would forcibly take the land needed for the trail under eminent domain.

“There was some discussion about eminent domain. I expressed on the record that I’m not in favor of eminent domain,” Chaplinsky said. “I think the state (officials) expressed that they’d like to see the parties keep talking.”

Messages left with Yarde Metals were not returned Monday. The company has locations around the Northeast and as far south as South Carolina.

New London leaders celebrate state funding for community center

Greg Smith 

New London — City officials gathered near a window in the conference center at Fort Trumbull State Park on Tuesday to point fingers toward the open field that is the future site of the city’s community recreation center.

It’s a 7-acre plot of land that has been vacant for decades and was at one time composed of 24 different parcels, a mix of residences and businesses. Last week, the state announced New London was to receive $1.2 million for assessment and remediation of the property and to help defray construction costs associated with the $30 million project.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz joined city leaders in the conference room Tuesday to formally announce the state funding, part of the $17.9 million awarded to 13 municipalities through the state Department of Economic and Community Development Brownfield Remediation Program. The news conference was supposed to be held on the site, but the cold winds forced the gathering inside.

“I’m so delighted that the state of Connecticut chose this parcel for remediation," she said. "New London is one of the more densely populated cities in the state, and to have a large parcel of empty land, to have that not being used by the community is a tragedy.”

“A community recreation center is something that is much needed, and this site is in the midst of what is becoming, and what will be, a very vibrant site for housing, tourism and recreation,” she added.

An extended-stay hotel and 100-unit apartment complex are under development on a different portion of the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

Bysiewicz credited the advocacy of New London Mayor Michael Passero and legislators such as state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, for the reason the project “rose to the top” on the list of proposals.

Plans for the recreation center are now in the schematic drawing phase, when details such as building layout and program elements are incorporated into usable blueprints. When completed, the blueprints are expected to help firm up cost estimates for the project.

The city intends to build a 62,000-square-foot building with amenities such as fitness rooms, offices and an eight-lane swimming pool expected to attract memberships and event space rentals from around the region. The facility also will be the headquarters of the city’s Recreation Department and New London Youth Affairs and their various programs.

Developers expected a small amount of contamination in the soil at the site but reported at last week’s Community Center Taskforce meeting that test borings have so far revealed no major issues. Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Community and Economic Development, said if the projected timeline holds, bid packages for contractors will be ready in April in anticipation of shovels in the ground sometime this spring.

“I’m excited to be part of this. It’s something that’s always been talked about,” City Council member Akil Peck said at Tuesday’s gathering.

Peter Davis, executive director of the city’s development arm — the Renaissance City Development Association — said the state funding will benefit not only the recreation center but also any future development on the site. Plans show the community recreation center occupying about 5 acres of parcels labeled 3B and 3C.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm," he said. "If not for this funding, it would have cost the city more money for the community center project. It helps RCDA to market what’s left of 3C because we don’t have to pass that cost over to a developer.”

With the foot traffic on the peninsula expected to dramatically increase, Davis said it would make sense to develop some type of restaurant or grab-and-go breakfast joint there.

Winstanley proposes 819,000-square-foot distribution center in Enfield

Michael Puffer

Winstanley Enterprises is proposing an 819,000-square-foot distribution center in Enfield as the final stage of a redevelopment of the former Hallmark property.

Hallmark announced plans to close its 1 million-square-foot distribution center in 2015, trimming more than 500 jobs in the process.

Winstanely paid $12 million for the 324-acre property the following year, announcing plans for redevelopment that would return jobs to Enfield.

The company reports spending more than $41 million to renovate two Hallmark buildings on the Bacon Road site. That brought three new tenant companies in 2018.

Winstanley also carved off a 200-acre parcel – 35 Bacon Road – for redevelopment. That space is the focus of this final redevelopment push for the Hallmark property.

The new distribution center will consist of two tenant spaces of 318,000 and 501,000 square feet, respectively. Two undisclosed companies have signed letters of intent to occupy the new buildings, according to Winstanley spokesman Matthew Watkins. 

Winstanley will begin the local permitting process on Tuesday night with an appearance before Enfield’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, followed by the start of site plan review before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan. 27.

In a release announcing its plans, Winstanley notes town zoning allows warehousing and distribution at the 35 Bacon Road development site. That means there is no need for a special permit or additional approvals, the company notes.

Still, Winstanley worked to address the concerns and desires of neighbors, according to the release. That meant restricting development to half the site and maintaining a buffer of trees to neighborhoods to the east and west of the development site, among other accommodations. The company also noted a “robust” storm water management plan.

 “We feel strongly that the plan represents a balance of physical feasibility, economic viability, market supportability and resource conservation,” said Adam Winstanley, President of Winstanley Enterprises. “We look forward to moving the project forward.”

Winstanley hopes to break ground by June 1 and complete the project in June 2023, according to Watkins.
Winstanley already owns several industrial leasing spaces in Enfield, including a 500,000-square-foot distribution center leased to Advanced Auto Parts; a 600,000 square-foot office, warehouse and distribution facility leased to Lego and Coca-Cola Bottling; as well as a 500,000 square-foot warehouse under construction on North Maple Street that will be occupied by Agri-Mark dairy products and life-science company Eppendorf.

“We’ve developed a proven track record of breathing new life into properties that we’ve acquired, and this location presented an exciting and unique opportunity,” Adam Winstanley said of the 35 Bacon Road project.

PURA launches statewide electric power storage program

Zachary Vasile

State energy regulators are rolling out a new program designed to help Eversource Energy and United Illuminating customers install energy storage capacity at their homes and businesses.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority formally launched the “Energy Storage Solutions” initiative on the first of the year, in partnership with the Connecticut Green Bank, which will administer the program, Eversource and UI. End users will be eligible to receive incentives for setting up power storage devices, which can help make the broader power grid more resilient, especially at times when the system is under strain due to inclement weather.

PURA officials said the average upfront incentives for residential customers will initially be around $200 per kilowatt-hour, with a maximum per-project incentive of $7,500.

The maximum incentive for commercial and industrial customers will be capped at 50% of a power storage project’s cost.

Residential, commercial and industrial end users will all be eligible for performance incentive payments based on how much power their devices contribute to the grid during critical periods, and additional support will be made available for those who could benefit the most from increased resiliency measures, including low-income customers, customers in underserved communities, small businesses and customers who historically experience frequent or long-lasting power outages during storms.

Energy Storage Solutions is expected to run for at least nine years.

In a statement, PURA Chair Marissa P. Gillett said the initiative will help move Connecticut toward its goal of deploying 1,000 megawatts of energy storage by the end of 2030, a measure intended to increase the state grid’s resiliency and assist those who have been disproportionately impacted by past power system failures.

“The Green Bank, working in collaboration with the utilities, will help ensure that our families and businesses, especially those within vulnerable communities, access the important benefits that electric storage provides in terms of resilience and modernizing the grid,” Gillett said.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who signed the 1000 MW target into law in June 2021, also offered praise for the program.

“We are combating the climate crisis and building our economy by making investments that promote environmental justice, healthier communities, affordable energy and expanded jobs and opportunity,” the governor said. “Adding a statewide electric storage program to our toolkit will play a vital role in these efforts and I thank the entire PURA team and our legislative partners for their leadership on this initiative.”

Future of Hartford’s ‘Bushnell South’ takes shape with master plan for key property


HARTFORD — Hartford’s Bushnell South — a long envisioned redevelopment of a jumble of parking lots east of The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts — is taking shape as a developer outlines a multiyear plan for a key corner across from Bushnell Park.

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners of Norwalk expects to begin a $63 million conversion of the historic, 1926 building at 55 Elm St. — once offices for the state attorney general and other Constitutional officers — by the end of March. Plans call for 160 apartments, co-working space and a restaurant for the structure that faces Pulaski Circle, the first phase of the development.

But a larger, master plan submitted to the city rounds out the vision for both the building and the parking lots that surround it on the northeastern corner of the Bushnell South area. 

The area is bisected by Capitol Avenue. Spinnaker sees new apartment buildings with storefront space on the those parking lots, first along West Street and later along Capitol Avenue. 

The new buildings, both five stories high, would bring another 166 apartments to the downtown area. In the last decade, 2,000 apartments have been added in and around downtown, the majority in converted and sometimes, vacant and rundown office buildings. 

Hundreds more are planned for the near future. Low-interest loans from the Capital Region Development Authority have figured significantly into the funding, including a $13.5 million loan for 55 Elm. 

The loans are backed by state taxpayers and funded through the sale of state bonds. But downtown apartment development is starting to enter a new phase, with new construction playing a bigger role.

 The massive, North Crossing — formerly DoNo — project and Bushnell South are prime examples. In June, a CRDA unveiled a master plan for the entire Bushnell South area. 

The area could include more than 1,000 apartments, pedestrian promenades, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. And now, as the 55 Elm project gears up, CRDA, which has led planning for Bushnell South redevelopment, said it hopes to seek proposals by the end of March for one of the largest lots just east of the historic and recently renovated State Office Building at 165 Capitol Ave. 

The conversion of 55 Elm is one of the first in Bushnell South, following the construction of the recently completed, publicly financed $16 million parking garage. 

The garage will be used by state employees, the public and as the first step toward “district” parking for the area. Matt Edvardsen, a principal at Spinnaker and director of asset management, said the apartment conversion of the 1926 structure, which includes an annex, is expected to take about two years.

It is likely that midway or so through the conversion, a second phase along West Street will get underway. Those plans call for 81 rentals and storefront space.

Another 85 units are also planned later along Capitol Avenue, though the timing is not yet known, Edvardsen said.

“The market is going to dictate how quickly we are going to be able to build these,” Edvardsen said. “Some time after [the first two] buildings are delivered and leased up, we will start the project along Capitol.” Edvardsen said it is still too soon to say how much additional phases will cost. Spinnaker is likely to seek funding through CRDA and a “tax-fixing” agreement with the city.

The plans call for “green spaces” and walkways among the buildings and residential amenities such as a pool and deck.

Edvardsen said the smaller annex to the larger 1926 building will also be converted to rentals, with a ground floor that may hold a destination such as a brewery, distillery, bakery or coffee roasterie.

Spinnaker, which also is developing the long-vacant corner of Park and Main streets in Hartford for apartments, said it is still bullish about building more rentals in the city.

“From what we understand, most of the comparable buildings downtown and just outside of downtown are fairly leased up and with occupancies in the mid-90s, and that’s the sign of a pretty healthy market,” Edvardsen said.