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CT Construction Digest Wednesday May 10, 2023

As New Canaan builds a new police station, here's how their temporary location is taking shape

Amanda Cuda

NEW CANAAN — The town's Board of Education building at 39 Locust Ave. could be the temporary home to the police department by late November. But town officials said it will take months of work to make that happen.

During its Tuesday Board of Selectmen meeting, the board approved $21,735 to install fiber optic cable at the Locust Avenue location and another $51,032 to relocate the dispatch center to the building.

"One of the first things we need to do (as part of setting up the location) is move over all the services," said Joe Zagarenski, senior engineer for the town of New Canaan, during the meeting. He added that "there will be a similar cost to move back when we move back in a couple of years." 

The police department is being moved while its headquarters at 174 South Ave. gets a complete facelift that could take anywhere from 18 months to two years.

The South Avenue building was originally constructed in 1928 as New Canaan High School. In 1980, the lower and main floors were renovated for police use. 

During a phone interview, Zagarenski described the work on the South Avenue building as a "renovate as new project," in which the current building will be "stripped down to bare walls and reconstructed as new modern police facility."

Zagarenski said the project has been funded for up to $29 million including construction and other costs, such as relocation.

During Tuesday's meeting, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said the plan was to "get the work done" turning the building at 39 Locust into a temporary police station as soon as the Board of Education is ready to leave the building, which is projected to happen in late August.

The Board of Education is slated to move to 220 Elm St., which Zagarenski said is in the process of being set up for them. 

Once the Board of Education leaves 39 Locust Ave., it should take roughly 12 weeks to set the building up as a temporary police station. 

"We have to set it up so that the police can do their day-to-day business," Zagarenski said.

He said that involved moving the 911 lines, dispatch center, interrogation room and nearly everything else, except for prison processing, which would be handled by another town. Zagarenski said the Locust Avenue building would likely be ready for use as the temporary police station some time around Thanksgiving.

Exterior work underway at Bridgeport's Barnum Museum

Andy Tsubasa Field

BRIDGEPORT — Pedestrians walking along the southern end of Main Street in Bridgeport might notice the blue beams and wooden platforms that have recently surrounded the Barnum Museum. 

Underneath the scaffolding, signs on the makeshift black doors warn passersby of "men working above," and on Tuesday afternoon, the sounds of drilling could be heard above. 

According to the Barnum Museum museum website, the building, located at 820 Main Street, has begun a "major construction of the historic exterior." The museum building has been closed to visitors since it sustained damage in a 2010 tornado

The Barnum Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and is dedicated to Barnum & Bailey circus founder, former Bridgeport mayor and longtime resident, P.T. Barnum. Built in 1893, it contains more than 60,000 artifacts related to Barnum, Bridgeport and 19th century America. 

The tornado caused damage that included the shifting of the museum’s dome, blowing out several windows and pushing out one of its walls. In the years since the tornado, the museum has raised $15 million toward repairs. That money has largely gone toward repairing the building's iconic onion dome and east wall, and to clean some of the estimated 20,000 artifacts that sustained damage from water, dust, humidity and bits of broken glass.

The tornado also caused ventilation systems to blast soot and debris onto the artifacts, according to Executive Director Kathy Maher.

Similar "puff backs" also occurred during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The museum also spent years negotiating with insurance companies over damage to the museum and its collection, Maher said in February, when she described reopening the museum as a "long-term goal" that she hoped could be complete within a decade.

Maher estimated that the museum would need another $30 million to restore the inside of the building. 

In 2018, the Connecticut State Bond Commission approved a $6.9 million grant for the Barnum Museum, which Maher said has been used to restore its exterior. More recently, the museum received a $500,000 grant from the National Parks Service in 2021 to repair its 79 windows. 

Southern Connecticut State University completes $52.4M first CT-owned, net zero building

Chatwan Mongkol

NEW HAVEN — Southern Connecticut State University is in the final construction stage of its $52.4 million new building, ready for the faculty to move in less than two weeks from now.

The four-storied, 64,000-square-foot School of Business will be the first state-owned building to leave behind no carbon footprint, thanks to the solar system and the 500-foot-deep geothermal system for air conditioning and green power.

“It’s about saving money and saving the environment,” said Eric Lessne, associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations. “Our whole campus is 100 percent green power. We produce, on campus, between our fuel cells and solar, about 60 percent of our power.”

School of Business Dean Jess Boronico said the new building and other initiatives are "expected to increase the scope of enrollment to international markets, including China, India, and beyond." The school currently has about 700 undergraduate students, according to the university.

The new building features 64 offices, eight classrooms, a 99-seat auditorium, an 85-seat community lounge, a specialty classroom, five conference rooms, 16 team rooms and a boardroom, according to Peter Visentin, who heads the university’s architectural services.

Faculty of the School of Business will move into the new office spaces May 22, three days after the construction company transferred the building to the state. An opening ceremony of the building is set to take place Sept. 15.

The construction is complete, but the university’s still waiting for a certification of occupancy, some final touches on things and furnishing — but “nothing detrimental.”

Visentin said some of the rooms included in the building were ones that faculty had asked for during the planning process. For example, Visentin said the professors asked for a one-sided mirror room to observe market research happening on the other side.

Some technologies included in the building are motion-sensor water fountains, stock market tickers, scheduling touch screens in front of team rooms and a mechanical room that can be controlled by the university’s building management system being monitored from another building.

The current School of Business is located at the former student center on Crescent Street. Visentin said that the building is “undersized,” and there are only two classrooms there. He said the registrar had to schedule classes all over campus, which meant students had to meet at different locations.

“Now that we’re in our new 64,000-(square-foot) work at home, we can consolidate the business school into this building,” Visentin said.

Victoria Verderame, assistant director of media relations, said the university hasn’t determined what to do with the existing building yet.

The building was initially slated to be done in February of this year. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the construction process. The initial plan to open the building to students for classes in the fall of 2023 hasn’t been disrupted, however.

The impact from the pandemic “wasn’t as bad as other projects,” Visentin said.

“We had some long lead time issues,” he said. “We had roofing material that took us about a year to get, which usually takes two months. Same thing with the mechanical units.”

SCSU got accreditation for its business school just last month from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. Other accredited business schools in the area include the ones at the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University.

“That is like pulling teeth; that is a major accomplishment,” Lessne said. “I hope this building had something to do with it.”

The university recently opened the $74 million health and human services building. According to a budget presented last year, SCSU plans to renovate Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, Earl Hall and Moore Field House. It also looks to construct a new, single-story, 10,000-square-foot university police facility on Wintergreen Avenue.

Middletown eager for opening of new, state-of-the-art Veterans Pool, splash pad

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — After years of planning and execution, the new $7.8 million state-of-the-art pool and splash pad complex at Veteran's Memorial Park in Middletown is set for a June opening.

“It’s going to be very impressive when people get to see it for the first time,” Common Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera said.

Funding came from the $33.5 million 21st Century Parks Bond approved by taxpayers in 2015.

The project’s original cost was estimated at $2 million, two years before supply and other issues arose due to the pandemic, as has been the case across the country, Nocera said. 

The complex will open to the public on June 20. It was initially scheduled to be available for use in time for the 2022 summer season. The 64-year-old pool will be 50 percent larger than the former one.

“People might think of it as a renovation, but it really isn’t. It’s a completely new design for the pool,” Nocera said.

“We’re in the home stretch,” Recreation and Community Services Director Cathy Lechowicz said. “It’s really coming together. You can really visualize it.”

Various elements of the much-anticipated splash pad are now being laid out, and only final coatings remain to be done on the pool, as well as some building enhancements, she said.

Shortly afterward, it’ll be available to kids enrolled in the Middletown recreation summer camp programs and members of the Veterans Swim Team.

C. J. Fucci Construction is managing the project, and the city is also working with SLR Consulting, formerly Milone & MacBroom.  

SLR, a “top-flight” operation, Nocera said, was also the consultant on the $78 million Pat Kidney sports compound near Beman Middle School, which was completed in September 2018. “They really understand how to enhance your facility with a modern approach to landscaping.”

The biggest hurdle so far was securing the gear switch box for the grounds, which brings power into the facility, although that is now in place, the councilman said. “They are in such short supply all over. It’s crippling projects. We were really worried about that." 

Swimmers will be able to wade into the large pool from the small pool, where the younger children play, but those youth won’t have easy access to the water, Nocera said.

The city is three-quarters through the parks bond, designed to fund projects for the next decade. "We’re right on target with it,” Nocera said, commending residents for passing the measure.

Another city jewel is the brand-new $3.7 million recreation facility at 1 Wilderman’s Way, Nocera said, paid for out of the $55 million infrastructure and Board of Education bonds and American Rescue Act funds.

“The stars are lining up perfectly for Middletown,” the majority leader said. “Like the mayor has said, over and over, ‘We’re now not just sowing, we’re reaping.’

“All the planning for the years and years we’ve been involved in it, now the results are evident,” the councilman said.

Nocera, a lifelong resident who lived on Broad Street as a child, remembers walking to the nearby pool. “It’s a fabulous renaissance in that whole park,” enhanced by the Greater Middletown Military Museum, Connecticut Trees of Honor and skating rink on the grounds.

“What an amazing transformation of that whole area,” Nocera said.  

Site work begins for east side apartments in Meriden

Mary Ellen Godin

MERIDEN — Construction recently began on 90 market-rate housing units at 406 Bee St. bringing more housing options to the city’s east side. 

Bee Street Apartments LLC purchased the 7.8-acre vacant parcel for $1.7 million in August from JHM LLC of Lexington Mass. Keith L. Lenhart and Daniel J. Mancosh are listed as principals of Bee Street Apartments.  

Lenhart is president and Mancosh is director of AR Building Co. Inc., of Seven Fields, Pennsylvania. The lot is located next to Flats at 390, a 106-unit market rate apartment complex built in 1991. Both developments are in the Bee Street, Preston Avenue area of the city near Interstate 91, Interstate 691 and Route 15.

Plans for the property were approved in 2020, and changed in March 2022. The original plans called for age 55 and over housing that was ultimately rejected by the developer.

The 90 apartments would be a near equal mix of one- and two-bedroom units, according to the plans.

The property is located in the city’s R-4 zone for multi-family/professional office buildings, and in addition to Flats at 390, is also near an extended-stay hotel.

The land is appraised at $841,700.

The main changes in this iteration are the location of the pool and addition of a clubhouse, resulting in more adjacent green space and a previous modification to change from one building to two buildings.

The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission conditioned its approval around several areas in 2020. Project engineers have addressed additional surface paving required for 198 parking spaces on site. The stormwater system consists of a series of catch basins and installation of a new 140-foot-long underground detention structure.

The developer intends to install an evergreen buffer around the property boundary that borders Interstate 691 and plant a tree-lined entrance.  

City officials and the general public have mixed views on additional housing in all areas of the city. Those opposed have expressed concern about potential drains on city services such as schools and public safety.

But supporters say the city needs more varieties of housing stock at all price points. The city’s current affordable housing rate is above 16 percent and there is opposition to building more affordable units in the transit-oriented district.

“These apartments are something that have been talked about for a long time,” said Democratic City Councilor Michael Rohde, who chairs the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. “Some say we don’t need anymore. But every week I get a call from someone looking for a rental. Apartments of all stripes and a higher (earning) demographic is called for. A friend of mine just went to Bristol for an upscale apartment.”

Rohde said that while the city must pay attention to service demands, there is an obvious need for “quality apartments for people in all areas.”

As the city continues its economic development efforts downtown, its parks and other amentities often attract outsiders. 

“A lot of people are coming from areas with higher crime,” Rohde said.” We have so many amenities with our parks, and people really are finding Meriden a wonderful place to live pricewise. We need to be prepared for those folks looking for a nice city.”

When ‘infrastructure’ dislocates a town

Chris Powell

Everybody seems to love federal appropriations for "infrastructure" -- free money, conjured not with taxation but with inflation and the rest of the world's purchase of U.S. government debt. Such appropriations can pay for big and expensive things, like modernizing the country's creaky passenger rail system.

But will people always be as approving when a big project begins its construction phase?

Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy raised the question the other day in remarks to the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. He acknowledged that using the many billions recently appropriated to improve the passenger railroad between Boston and Washington will involve "dislocation" in eastern Connecticut.

Straightening track to increase rail speed will infringe on many properties in towns that value their relative isolation from the modern age and its noise. Constructing a new, much straighter route between New York and Boston, running from southwestern Connecticut through the central and eastern parts of the state, about which planners have mused, might cut an hour off rail travel time at the cost of trampling hundreds of properties under eminent domain.

This makes sense from a railroading perspective. But, much set in its ways, Connecticut can hardly reach consensus on eliminating a grade crossing.

Besides, is improving intercity passenger rail service really as compelling as it seemed a few years ago, now that the internet has eliminated so much commuting to work and so many in-person business meetings? Recent clamor in Washington and at the state Capitol has been almost entirely about needs like public health, housing, and education, with little said about getting from one city to another a little faster.

So it is possible and maybe even likely that Connecticut will see no big passenger rail improvements or any transportation improvements at all any time soon. While state government recently started commuter rail service between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, the per-passenger subsidy is huge and likely unsustainable, and for decades state government has failed to complete even the easiest and most obvious road projects, like extending the Route 11 expressway from Salem to Interstate 95 in Waterford and I-384 from Bolton to the Rhode Island line.

Credit Senator Murphy for noting that big thinking imposes big challenges. Will he strive to meet those challenges when it starts inconveniencing many of his constituents? Will he even still be in office when Connecticut confronts any big challenge?

But Murphy, a Democrat, resorted to demagoguery when he responded to former President Donald Trump's remarks to the recent convention of the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis, where the former president and other leading Republicans pledged to protect Second Amendment rights.

“Republicans," Murphy said, "are going to make it clear that, given the choice between our families and the gun industry, they are choosing the gun industry again. The Republican Party continues to put the gun industry and the gunmakers before the safety of our kids and our families.”

Like other Democrats, Murphy continues to misrepresent the obstacle to his legislative objectives about guns. For the obstacle is not the "gun industry" at all.

The "gun industry" -- gun manufacturers -- is not among the most influential special interests, many of which are aligned with Murphy's party. What most influences elected officials about guns are gun owners, many of whom are vocal and politically active. Their views may not be those of the majority but they are the people elected officials hear from most on the gun issue.

Most people may favor, as Murphy does, mandatory, no-exception federal background checks for the purchase of and transfer of guns. Most people may even favor outlawing any rifle that looks scary, though it may operate no differently than an ordinary pistol. But most people won't bother to contact their elected officials about those issues or remember how those officials perform on them, while many gun rights supporters will.

That's democracy for you -- not just with guns but with everything else. As the great journalist James Reston wrote, the first rule of politics is the indifference of the majority. There is majority rule only when the majority bestirs itself to rule. Until then, political minorities are often in charge.

Quarry blasts on Torrington PZC agenda


TORRINGTON – With some nearby residents concerned about blasts from quarries on Winsted Road, a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on the proposed renewal of permits for the joint-mining operation will resume tonight at 7.
O&G Industries and Haynes Aggregates Torrington, which have adjacent quarries, must renew their permits every two years, City Planner Jeremy Leifert said. The hearing began at last month’s PZC meeting.

The companies have been working together for several years mining earthen material from rock quarries, and in 2021 received approval for a joint-mining operation, engineer and land surveyor Kenneth Hrica told the commission in April. He said Haynes wants to continue mining within a 19.8-acre area and O&G a 23.4-acre expanse. The companies are not seeking any modifications to the permits or areas where they extract material.

“The open excavation areas work with what we’re doing now,” Hrica said.

Despite Hrica’s assurances all would remain as is, 11 speakers voiced opposition to the blasts, citing noise and dust, distress over damage to homes and making requests for environmental studies.

Amy Hill and Bruce Falls of<t-1> Starks Hill Road blamed cracks in their walls and ceilings, as well as in the concrete of their frog pond, on blasting from the operations. Hill said her son, who has special needs, has to wear headphones “so he doesn’t have a meltdown when the blast goes off and scares him.” Other concerns they listed included too many trucks making trips in and out of the quarries, and they get sand in their washing machine and toilet, forcing them to replace filters “all the time.”

Hill said her family has lived in the home for 50 years and the problems are new. The fact that seismograph measurements indicate the operation meets state standards offers small consolation, she noted.

“They’re OK by state standards, but it doesn’t matter when your yard is being destroyed, when your house is being destroyed, when you have to put headphones on your son,” Hill said. “We’re told, ‘We’re sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.’”

Hakki Cinel spoke on behalf of Lakeridge, a gated community off Burr Mountain Road, saying there are regular water main breaks in the neighborhood and requesting that testing be done to determine if the blasting is the cause.

Catherine Winzler, an Oxford Way resident, said when the blasts occur, pictures fall off her walls. A blast earlier that day “scared the crap out of” her and her dog, she said. She bemoaned dust from the blasts and said she is forced to keep her door closed day and night due to all the noise.

“What everyone is saying here is absolutely true and we would appreciate being listened to,” Winzler said.

Ahead of tonight’s meeting, Haynes and O&G sent the commission a letter responding to the complaints, offering to speak individually with the residents and monitor the impact of blasting in certain areas.

In some cases, such as with Hill and Falls, the companies denied blasting was the cause of damages described. In other instances, such as Winzler’s, they offered to give notification when blasts are scheduled.

“While we were surprised by the number of people who raised concerns at this hearing, particularly from those who receive notice of blasting and have never previously reported a complaint, we believe all of the concerns raised can be adequately managed,” the letter states.

CT Construction Digest Tuesday May 9, 2023

Greenwich developer floats 10-story hotel next to Curley's Diner in downtown Stamford

Jared Weber

STAMFORD — Over the years, as tall residential buildings and a parking garage rose up to dwarf the old diner facing Columbus Park, one neighboring patch of asphalt remained untouched.

On multiple occasions, Stamford officials made plans to redevelop the 0 West Park Place parcel next to Curley's Diner. But none of them materialized, leaving the city-owned property as a de facto parking lot fitting about 34 cars for nearby businesses.

An early-stage proposal being discussed with the Stamford Zoning Board would change that in a big way.

Wellbuilt Company, a developer headquartered in Greenwich with two projects already in Stamford, has filed a pre-application with the Land Use Bureau to explore building an extended stay hotel on the property. Preliminary designs include a 10-story building with 95 rooms and ground-floor space reserved for retail or a restaurant.

Amenities would be located on the second floor, as well as on an open-air rooftop deck. The design would also preserve an existing shortcut connecting the property to Columbus Park-area businesses.

Parking would be off-site in the Bell Street garage. According to the pre-application, the concept is common for urban hotels and it was reviewed favorably by the city's Transportation, Traffic and Parking Department. 

An extended stay hotel would serve a variety of customers in and around Stamford's downtown, Wellbuilt Company co-founder Mitch Kidd said. As examples, he listed travel nurses, parents of University of Connecticut-Stamford students and people moving to Stamford looking for an in-between place to stay.

"There's just a high demand for it, and (it's) ever growing," Kidd said. 

The developer has yet to submit a formal Zoning Board application, opting instead to file a pre-application. The process has "not historically been utilized," said Lisa Feinberg, the attorney representing Wellbuilt Company. But it allows the developer to explore the feasibility of a project without committing extensive funds to the process, she said.

Feinberg said the pre-application process is especially useful with the proposed site because of its size — just under 12,000 square feet with existing businesses on both sides.

"There are challenges, so being able to get that feedback without investing in civil engineering and full architectural drawings and all of the soft costs that go into processing an application — paying for me, paying for all of the consultants to sit at the Zoning Board and the (Urban Redevelopment Commission) — then, it's certainly worthwhile to do that," Feinberg said.

Acquired by the city in 1966, the parcel was one of the plots designated by officials for Stamford's urban renewal era. As a result, the Urban Redevelopment Commission was given authority to "acquire, manage, demolish and dispose of designated parcels," according to a 2021 URC memorandum.

A contract is in place to transfer the property from the URC to Wellbuilt Company, Feinberg said. In order for the deal to close, though, the developer must secure zoning approval for the project.

It marks the third time in the past three decades that the URC has moved to develop the property.

In 1997, the URC authorized a developer to seize properties on the block to build multiple high-rises. One of those properties was Curley's Diner, a downtown fixture since 1941.

But the diner's co-owners, Maria Aposporos and her sister Eleni Anastos, blocked the city's condemnation attempt in a 2002 landmark state Supreme Court case. In 2006, a revised agreement aimed to build around Curley's, but it was also stopped by continuing litigation and the 2008 financial crisis.

Eventually, in 2012, development firm Trinity Financial stepped in to take over the project. Under the firm's direction, two residential buildings in the area were built — 66 Summer and Vela on the Park.


The Zoning Board and a developer are exploring the feasibility of a 10-story extended stay hotel proposal in the parking lot next to Curley's Diner in Stamford, Conn., photographed here on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media

At the diner on Wednesday, Aposporos looked over a preliminary rendering of the proposed hotel. The blue-ink sketching shows the hotel standing high over the diner — the two buildings separated by a drop-off lane and loading dock.

It's too tall, she said. Nonetheless, Aposporos said the hotel is "a good idea." She said it could be good for business at the diner.

She said she hopes the project has a first-floor bathroom, as people at Mill River Park frequently ask to use hers. She also said she hopes the building is properly soundproofed, so hotel guests can fall asleep when nearby bars and restaurants play music late at nights.

"Me, I don't care what they put there. I just don't want (patrons) to bother the police all the time because the police are very busy," Aposporos said.

Aposporos said she's open to having new neighbors, but she wants to be treated fairly. She said when another urban renewal building, 66 Summer, was under construction, crews used her building's water supply without paying her back.

"I said, 'I don't want to make money from you guys. We will call the water company, how much I paid last year, and you pay the extra.' And then they left (without) paying," she said.

Trinity Financial, the developer of 66 Summer, did not respond to an immediate request for comment. In 2017, the company sold the 200-unit building to an out-of-state company for $67.5 million.

Owners of Acuario, a Peruvian restaurant that would be the hotel's other nextdoor neighbor, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

No takers for town-owned site in Manchester, but officials expect developer to come forward soon

Jesse Leavenworth

MANCHESTER — A town-owned Main Street building that has been called an eyesore but could be a key to downtown redevelopment failed to attract any formal bids in a recent request for developers' proposals.

But the high construction costs and interest rates that deterred bids for the Tong Building site are temporary, Town Manager Steve Stephanou said Monday, and officials expect a developer to come forward as plans progress for a Main Street renewal.

The town bought the Tong Building at 942 Main St. earlier this year for $1.75 million. Together with the adjacent town-owned Forest Street parking lot, the site being marketed to developers totals 2.38 acres. The town's plan is to demolish the building by February 2024 to open the block-long site for mixed-use development that will complement the planned $39-million public library to be built directly across Main Street.

Although no official bids came in, the town received "substantial interest" from developers for the Tong site, Stephanou said, and as temporary market conditions improve, "we have confidence this is a desirable site in a downtown that has seen a lot of recent investment and increased interest in new and expanding businesses."

The Tong Building, named for its former owners and parents of current state Attorney General William Tong, has been partially vacant for many years. Town leaders and residents have called it an eyesore. In 2015, town officials discussed a proposal to buy the building, tear it down and build a new library on the site, but the board of directors shelved the proposal in part because of the $20 million price tag, which at the time did not include the purchase price and demolition costs.

When town directors were discussing downtown development three years later, Minority Leader Cheri Eckbreth said they should not allow the building to be "the turd in the punch bowl." But discussions to buy the building faltered again and were not revived until recently.

The town will issue another request for proposals for the site, Stephanou said. The request that expired sought proposals that included one or more buildings that could accommodate a "traditional downtown mix of uses," with ground floor retail and apartments and offices above. The request also stated that the development must include a 2,000-square-foot space for the Webster Bank branch that is to be torn down to make room for the new library across the street.

Desirable, but not required elements included accommodation of current tenants, a transit stop and affordable housing units. The town prefers to sell the site, but is open to a lease agreement, according to the request.