CT Construction Digest Wednesday July 22, 2020
Emily M. Olson
WINSTED — The state Bond Commission Tuesday approved $200 million to fund school projects around the state, including the Mary P. Hinsdale School in Winsted.
The commission met virtually, led by Gov. Ned Lamont, approving a variety of funding requests. During his opening remarks, the governor specifically mentioned Winchester while discussing school construction projects.
“Of our $325 million for our GO bonds, general obligation bonds, $200 million of that is related to schools, and school construction,” the governor said. “I know we’re working hard to get our kids back to school. ... In the meantime, ongoing school construction continues. ... We have Bassick in Bridgeport, Hamden, New London, Stonington and Winchester; schools all over the state will continue to rebuild and make sure we (continue moving) forward.”
Mayor Candy Perez was thrilled to hear the town’s funding request was approved.
“It’s great news, that the governor and the Bond Commission are giving funding for the schools,” she said. “Our town has made so much progress, and this carries us forward to continue to improve the schools for children and families.”
Voters in September 2019 approved in a referendum a $17.43 million plan to renovate the school. Winsted requested $7 million in funding from the Bond Commission, leaving the town to pay about $10.5 million.
Winsted Town Manager Robert Geiger said the Hinsdale School Building Committee, assembled by the Board of Education, is working with its architects, Silver Petrucelli, on drawings for the renovation of the shuttered school, which was closed in 2016. After voters approved the Hinsdale project in 2019, the Board of Selectmen earmarked $300,000 in its capital fund to hire an architect to begin redesigning the school, Geiger said. “The drawings are the first phase,” Geiger said. “It takes three to four months to get all the details for that phase, and we’re doing that with Silver Petrucelli. Once that’s done, it’s presented, and then it goes out to bid.”
In another step, the Planning & Zoning Commission on July 13 approved a special permit for the project and set a public hearing for Aug. 24.
The planned Hinsdale renovation includes removing an original portion of the building to eliminate a culvert that now runs under the school; adding 7,700 square feet of new classroom space; replacing ceilings and floors that are in poor condition; adding a new play area for students; and replacing sidewalks, paving and curbing outside the building.
The school, which served students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, was closed in 2016 during the tenure of state Receiver Robert Travaglini.
Bond Commission approves $7 million for Norwich Hospital cleanup
Preston — The state Bond Commission on Tuesday approved $7 million for the final cleanup of the 393-acre former Norwich Hospital property needed before it can be turned over to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for a planned major development.
The commission approved the funding without discussion, said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who led the effort to secure the grant.
“Thank goodness,” Osten said Tuesday. “I am so excited about this.”
The $7 million will be held in escrow by the state Department of Economic and Community Development pending an agreement with the town on a cleanup plan and disbursement schedule. Town officials will discuss next steps during a conference call Thursday with DECD officials.
The bond money, combined with a low-interest state loan the town previously had secured, is expected to complete the cleanup of extensive coal ash contamination throughout the 393-acre property. The state had used ash, from a coal-burning plant, beneath roads, parking lots and building foundations.
The contamination was discovered last fall, as new First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier took office following the retirement of 24-year First Selectman Robert Congdon.
Allyn-Gauthier said she was “very excited” at Tuesday's funding approval. “This is the step we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re going to be able to start back up in late summer, early fall.”
Congdon called Tuesday’s vote a “huge step” toward getting the property ready for development. The town took ownership of the property in 2009.
“This provides us with the funds that we needed,” Congdon said. “The Mohegans are committed to taking the property. Hopefully, we can get most of the work done while we have good weather.”
Most of the development parcels will be cleaned to a high standard for residential development and at least one parcel to commercial development standards, said Sean Nugent chairman of the Preston Redevelopment Agency overseeing the cleanup.
Nugent said if agreements with DECD can be reached smoothly on use of the grant and loan, work could resume in August. He said it could take 12 to 18 months from the start of work to complete the cleanup and obtain certification from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to allow the town to convey the property to MG&E.
“I know people say, ‘you should be able to do it faster,’” Nugent said, “but Mother Nature does things to us, and the virus does things to us.”DECD Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Daum said the agency and town officials need to iron out the scope and cost of the remediation in an assistance agreement governing how the funding will be dispersed incrementally. Thursday’s virtual meeting will start that process.
“We’ve always maintained a constant dialogue with the tribe,” Nugent said. “We don’t know their specifics, but we know they are as eager as we are to complete the cleanup and convey the property.”
"The tribal council is pleased by the leadership and foresight shown by Governor Lamont and can't wait for the cleanup to start again, and even more for it to be finished," Mohegan tribal Chief of Staff Chuck Bunnell said in an email statement Tuesday. "This was a big step forward for the region and state."
The General Assembly approved the $7 million as part of a $400 million bond bill on March 11, just before the legislative session and many government functions, including Bond Commission meetings, shut down or scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On behalf of the town and the PRA, I want to thank Gov. (Ned) Lamont,” Nugent said Tuesday. “It’s very much appreciated that he got this done during COVID. And special thanks to Sen. Osten and the other legislators in this region who supported this effort. And a special thanks to the tribe for sticking with us all this time.”
Preston’s delegation, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, co-signed a letter Feb. 28 to Lamont supporting the Norwich Hospital funding. But while Somers voted in favor of the March 11 bond package bill, France was one of four representatives to vote against the package, citing objections to other funding in the package.
“The town of Preston should be congratulated for their persistence, and we appreciate that the governor recognizes the value of this wise investment,” Somers said in a statement following Tuesday's Bond Commission vote.
East Lyme Board of Finance turns down $2.17 million needed to complete police building
East Lyme — After hours of listening to the public and town officials about which course of action the town should take on its future public safety building during a special meeting Monday night, the Board of Finance denied a request to bond an additional $2.17 million to complete plans to renovate and remodel the building.
Finance board members voted 3-3 on a motion to approve the $2.17 million request. But because the board did not cast a majority vote on the matter, the motion failed. Chairwoman Camille Alberti and members Rich Steel and Ann Cicchiello voted against the request, while members Anne Santoro, Peter DeRosa and John Birmingham voted in favor.
The vote came shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, after hours of tense deliberation between board members over what the best course of action would be for both the town’s police force and taxpayers during what some argue has become uncertain financial times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In good conscience, I can’t advance a narrative that says this project will only cost $7.2 million," Alberti said after Monday's vote. “... All along I’ve always said I prefer a brand-new building. In the end, it’s much cheaper to build a brand-new building rather than try to retrofit something that really doesn’t fit. ... Now you’re asking me to push forward with a narrative I don’t believe in. It goes against my conscience and I simply cannot do that tonight.”
Santoro, who was also a member of the Public Safety Building Vision Committee planning renovations for the building over the last year, argued that the voters in town have decided they do want a public safety building and that the current plan is the best and most viable option. She also argued to allow voters to have the final say at referendum.
“It’s a project that has conceptually been presented to everyone, the boards and the public, and the public has voted overwhelmingly yes,” Santoro said before the vote. “... This is truly a viable project. It’s not going to affect us in a financial way that is so devastating. Are we happy to take on somewhat more debt? No. But relatively speaking, this is a manageable debt we would be taking on.”
The Board of Finance was tasked with deciding on the additional $2.17 million allocation after the vision committee overseeing the project determined this spring it needed that much more to complete the project, on top of the $5 million voters had agreed by referendum to allocate for the project in early 2019.
That referendum came after the Board of Finance voted, in an abundance of caution, to allot $1 million less than what the Board of Selectmen initially proposed spending to purchase and renovate the building in early 2019. If the finance board had agreed on the additional allocation Tuesday morning, residents would have voted at referendum later this month whether to approve the remainder of the project.
Santoro reminded board members Monday that the board approved spending up to $5 million at that point with the expectation that the vision committee would ask for more money after receiving precise numbers for how much the project would actually cost.
The vision committee, which was formed in early 2019 and is made up of selectmen, current and former finance board members, police commission members and members of the public, as well as police Chief Mike Finkelstein, has been working for more than a year to thoroughly plan how best to retrofit the former Honeywell building at 277 West Main St. into a consolidated space that will hold the town’s police force, dispatch center and fire marshal’s office. The town used part of its $5 million allocation to purchase the building for $2.77 million last year.After months of carefully planning and discussing every aspect of the renovation, the committee recently presented an estimated $7,178,566 renovation plan that includes the cost of purchasing the more than 30,000-square-foot structure, as well as plans for three holding cells and a sally port area and an elevator cab.
The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the additional $2.17 million request to complete the project at a meeting in June, during which the board hailed the proposed renovation plan as urgent and necessary, as well as the best deal for the town, after describing decades of placing the town's police force on "the back burner" to make way for pressing school projects.
Town police currently are housed in a small Main Street building, which the town rents from owner Dominion for $1 a year, that has significant flooding, mold and mildew issues and which First Selectman Mark Nickerson has argued is not an appropriate work environment. The town also leases holding cell and evidence collection space from Waterford for approximately $46,000 annually because it does not have such space in its current police building.
Members of the public, as well as some finance board members, against approving the additional allocation questioned the honesty and integrity of some town officials who first presented the idea in the fall of 2018 and later promised the project could come within the $5 million budget. They also questioned whether allocating an additional $2.17 million made fiscal sense during uncertain financial times and whether the town should be spending money on its police while communities nationwide are actively debating whether to defund theirs.
Members of the public and finance board members in favor of moving forward with the project argued the town’s police force has been functioning out of less-than-ideal working conditions in its current building for far too long, that retrofitting the new building was the most economical solution and that the committee overseeing the project has worked for more than a year to plan renovations for the building.
Now that the board has denied the $2.17 million request, the Board of Selectmen will decide how to proceed with the project. Alberti suggested at Monday’s special meeting that the Board of Selectmen consider putting the building up for sale. Nickerson, who was not immediately available for comment Tuesday, has said the town does not have an alternative plan or solution for the town’s police force. Selectman Paul Dagle, who chairs the vision committee, made the same point after Tuesday morning's vote.
The Board of Selectmen is schedule to next meet Aug. 5.
Shelbourne to demolish, replace Hartford’s aging Talcott Plaza garage
ne of Hartford’s most prominent landlords says it plans to invest at least $4 million to raze downtown’s decaying One Talcott Plaza garage, and build a new one in its place.
New York’s Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC on Tuesday confirmed it informed city officials last week that it will demolish the long-vacant garage near Main Street after determining it was “unsafe” and “beyond repair.”
Shelbourne Chief Operating Officer Michael Seidenfeld in a statement said it will take approximately 18 months to construct a new garage, which includes three lots at 1006 Main, 30 Talcott and 36-70 Talcott streets. Shelbourne has not yet determined when construction will begin, or how much the redevelopment will cost.
Seidenfeld added that the Brooklyn-based company is committed to “restoring or preserving the historic portion of the footbridge.”
Last November, the city council extended Shelbourne's deadline to determine how it planned to use the garage site until June 30. The agreement also required Shelbourne to increase its planned investment at the property, which includes vacant office space at the corner of Main and Talcott streets, to more than $10 million.
Shelbourne previously called for the garage to be demolished in preparation of new site construction by Dec. 31, as part of a tax-break deal it inked with the city.
Shelbourne has been aggressive in Hartford since its first $44-million purchase of the Stilts Building, at 20 Church St., in 2014.
Bond commission approves $550 M in financing for capital projects — but partisan debate over borrowing continues
Keith M. Phaneuf
he State Bond Commission approved nearly $550 million in financing for school construction, transportation and other capital projects Tuesday.
But while Gov. Ned Lamont hailed the funding as a vital infusion into Connecticut’s construction economy, a House Republican leader again charged the state with overspending despite eroding revenues and dangerously high unemployment.
“This is a really good time to be doing upgrades and rebuilding” Lamont, who chairs the 10-member bond commission, said, adding “it’s not something you can pull back upon” just because of the coronavirus pandemic.
About 80% of the financing approved Tuesday — about $420 million out of $550 million — is focused on education and transportation projects, two major priorities, the Democratic governor said. And with the pandemic curtailing highway and rail travel, transportation projects are progressing with particular efficiency at this time, Lamont added.
Though required by law to approve a new revenue schedule annually before July 1, the legislature didn’t do so this year, ending business in mid-March because of the coronavirus. Since then, analysts warned, revenues for this new fiscal year are likely to be down about $2 billion.
Were legislators to adopt a revenue schedule based on an April 30 forecast from state analysts, they and Lamont would need to suspend about $2.2 billion in planned projects.
The Democrat-controlled legislature is due back to the Capitol later this week for a special session to address election and police accountability issues, but they don’t plan to approve a new revenue schedule — and thereby tighten the borrowing limit — at this time.
More than 700,000 unemployment claims have been filed with the state Department of Labor since mid-March, and many of those came after April 30.
Also since that time, projections for the national economic output have worsened.
Lamont insisted that when legislators set a new revenue schedule, his administration is prepared to help identify new projects that could be deferred. Also, the State Bond Commission doesn’t authorize new projects, but rather it allocates borrowed dollars to projects established by the legislature.
Though most of the funding was focused on major programs, the bond commission agenda also includes about $15 million in smaller projects — park upgrades, new sidewalk and streetscapes, senior center repairs, museum and cultural center improvements — in urban communities represented by the legislature’s Democratic majority.
“Some of the items on this agenda … perhaps are not necessary at this time when we’re facing fiscal peril,” said Davis, who cast the long dissenting vote against many of these items.