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Middletown’s Woodrow Wilson grads strongly oppose renaming new schoolCassandra DayMIDDLETOWN — The formation of a naming committee to decide what to call the city’s new $87.35 million combined middle school has raised a good deal of ire among graduates of the former Woodrow Wilson High School.Construction will begin in late June on the new Woodrow Wilson Middle School, which will incorporate Keigwin Middle School sixth graders into the seventh- and eighth-grade facility.Naysayers believe the name Woodrow Wilson should remain because of its historic value, pride, and sense of identity thousands of graduates feel to this day.The city used to have two high schools: Middletown high, in the area of the current high school on the since-renamed La Rosa Lane, and Woodrow Wilson, at the current middle school building.“Those of us who attended Woodrow Wilson — either high school or middle school — have lost our entire high school identity,” Common Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski said. Middletown high students were moved to a new facility off Newfield Street in 1972, which caused “angst” among WWMS students and grads, because the school colors and Wildcats mascot was not incorporated into the new facility, Kleckowski said.“That history of Woodrow Wilson was just gone. People really feel an attachment, and they don’t want the history totally erased,” she said.Middletown Republican Town Committee Chairman William Wilson also graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. When the two high schools became one institution, he also expected the mascot and school colors of each would be blended.Middletown high’s colors at the time were black and orange (now they’re blue and white), and Woodrow Wilson maroon and gray. The current high school mascot is the Blue Dragon.“Each school had a real sense of belonging. There was a cross-town rivalry that really inspired students on both sides to perform better, whether it was in sports or academics. It inspired teachers because there was a real sense of community,” said Kleckowski, whose father also graduated from the high school. “Being a Wildcat meant something. We don’t have that anymore. There was a sense of pride, so when you left, there were certain attributes you were supposed to maintain.”Board of Education Chairman Chris Drake said naming the new facility is part of the panel’s typical decision-making process. “People feel very emotionally tied to it, so let’s form a committee, make it as diverse as possible, as far as racial groups, gender groups, viewpoints, age groups, and have a process where people can discuss it, hear from the public and then make a decision,” he said.Drake always expected the new school would require a new name.“This is an example of two people looking at a situation and viewing it completely differently,” he said. “The new one is going to be built in front, the existing building demolished. We have a two-going-into-one problem. It seemed an obvious question: What’s the new one going to be called?”The Board of Education has formed a naming committee, which will eventually comprise 15 individuals: five community members, two from the school board, two administrators and two teachers (one from each of the schools), both principals and two students.The district is taking applications (at bit.ly/2UoyRH5) from those interested in joining the panel. The deadline is April 26.William Wilson created the Change.org petition Keep Woodrow Wilson Middle School Name six days ago. By late Wednesday afternoon, 210 people had signed it“People don’t want to lose that part of their identity. A lot of people from the ’50s, ’60s classes are very frustrated. At least give us a say at the table,” he said.Drake is surprised he hasn’t heard from anyone who wants the new facility named for Ida Keigwin, former teacher and principal at Middletown’s now defunct Johnson School.Keigwin began teaching at 16 and worked mostly in area school districts, including Colchester, Moodus, Chester and East Haddam, before becoming principal at Chester High School and then settling in Middletown“Everyone seems perfectly comfortable that she just gets cast aside, and they’re very excited about keeping the name Woodrow Wilson, but it’s totally acceptable in the process that we lose the name Ida Keigwin. At some point, a board of education thought she was important enough to name a school after her,” Drake said.Former common councilor Hope Kasper thinks getting rid of the Woodrow Wilson name will “destroy the history of Middletown.”She is open to the idea of both school names being on the new structure.“That’s preserving the history of Middletown. If they want to name it something else that has no historical value, I’m opposed to that. The name Woodrow Wilson on a high school or middle school goes back to the ’30s. I think that should be maintained,” Kasper said.Institutions across the nation named after the former president have come under fire in recent years because of his segregationist views. Woodrow Wilson taught history at Wesleyan University from 1888 to 1890 and lived in Middletown during that time.He founded Wesleyan’s debate club, and his staunch support of Wesleyan’s football team was well-remembered by students of his day, according to Wesleyan University Magazine.In 2015, Princeton University students began a push to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from all the buildings on campus. A compromise was reached in 2016, when Princeton’s board of trustees decided to keep his name from its School of Public and International Affairs and from a residential college, according to NPR“I’m tired of the political correctness. Woodrow Wilson was not a great man. He was our president, but he also taught at Wesleyan, and there’s a lot of history with that. People who went there don’t want to lose that history. They feel like everything has been taken away as it is,” William Wilson said.There have been “rumblings” in the community over the school’s namesake during the past several years, because of that new view of the former president, said Kleckowski, herself an educator.“Regardless of what some may think about racist allegations, it was a different time. There was a reason why that school was named after Woodrow Wilson,” she said. 04/18/2019

A new vision to replace the I-84 viaduct could drastically change the look and feel of downtown HartfordKenneth R. Gosselin Botched plans that gave rise to the hulking, I-84 viaduct and a tangle of ramps in downtown Hartford decades ago could be erased from the landscape with a new development of apartments, office space, storefronts and pedestrian promenades if the state moves forward with lowering the heavily-traveled highway.With the replacement or reconstruction of the I-84 viaduct at least a decade a way, any new development remains years off. State and city planners see a rare opportunity for Hartford, tying together transportation, Bushnell Park and new development.The vision for a new development that would knit back together downtown — west of Bushnell Park — with the Asylum Hill neighborhood is outlined in a new consultant study that examined a 108-acre area around the historic Union Station — part of planning for replacing the 49-year-old viaduct.The study, led by th

Walk Bridge projects pose traffic, noise concerns in NorwalkPat TomlinsonNORWALK — East Norwalk residents got a glimpse Monday night of what to expect when work begins on three bridges in the neighborhood as a part of the Walk Bridge project.State Department of Transportation officials attended the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association meeting to provide residents with details regarding the expected duration of the projects, which could cause traffic and noise concerns in the area.John Hanifin, project manager of the Walk Bridge Program, said replacing the three aging rail bridges — East Avenue, Osborne Avenue and Fort Point Street — were packaged with the Walk Bridge project to minimize the amount of time spent in Norwalk on rail improvements.Hanifin estimates the work on these projects, along with improvements to Metro-North’s interlocking system, would take an additional two years if done separately. The three projects, along with a fourth, unrelated project to replace the Strawberry Avenue rail bridge scheduled to begin this month and end in fall 2020, has some East Norwalkers concerned about potential traffic jams along four adjacent routes stretching from a main road heading into Westport to South Norwalk.Hanifin tried to allay some of those concerns at the meeting.While the projects will be done at the same time, Hanifin said the DOT plans to close no more than one of the affected roads at once.Hanifin also said closures would be limited to off-peak hours, between about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.‘We’re not here to try and negatively affect you guys. We’re doing the best that we can,” Hanifin said.Chris Mojica, program manager from consultant WSP USA, said the work will also be scheduled to avoid road closures that conflict with scheduled events that would temporarily increase traffic in the area.“We’re not going to work during the Oyster Fest or the SoNo 5k. We’re trying to reach a happy medium here,” Mojica said.Hanifin acknowledged, however, that road closures in South Norwalk could occur at the same time as similar closures in East Norwalk.All three bridge projects are scheduled to begin about a year-and-a-half after the start of the Walk Bridge project, which is expected to start this fall. Each is expected to last about three years. The East Norwalk bridge replacement, which is estimated to cost $26 million, will include a lowering of the roadway to comply with federal clearance regulations, an extension of the East Norwalk train station’s platforms and upgrades to its parking lot.Unlike the other two bridges, the East Norwalk structure will need to be built in place. Since the intersection also sees the most traffic of the three, Hanifin said, it will also be subject to the most “restrictive” of the construction time frames.Estimated at $20 million, the Fort Point bridge replacement will include a realignment of Washington Street, which will connect to South Smith Street, instead of Fort Point Street.Diane Cece, chairwoman of the ENNA, raised concerns that the road realignment — which was a new addition to the project design — could open the door for more “land grabs” by the state.“There should be no additional easements. At least, that’s the plan,” Hanifin replied.The Osborne Avenue bridge is the least costly of the three projects at about $12 million, and it will include a superstructure replacement and rehabilitation to its substructure. There will also be a sidewalk added to the east side of the underpass. 04/17/2019

The Lamont administration and Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano exchange accusations that each is trying to deceive the public on highway tollsNeil Vigdor The clash over highway tolls in Connecticut is reaching a boil. Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is accusing the Senate’s top Republican, Len Fasano, of using an outdated Department of Transportation toll study — showing collection points on Routes 8, 9, 2, as well as 691 and 395 that are not part of the governor’s current proposal — to stoke the opposition to tolls. At the same time, Fasano alleges that Lamont’s administration is low-balling toll pricing estimates to try to save its highly contentious plan to raise transportation revenues. The hostilities come as a growing number of cities and towns have adopted anti-tolling resolutions that are mostly symbolic in nature, but are intended to put pressure on lawmakers to reject Lamont’s plan to put tolls on 91, 84, 95 and Route 15. Toll foes have further organized protests across the state, but have struggled to draw large crowds. A rally at the Capitol on Saturday drew an estimated 125 people. Lamont’s senior adviser Colleen Flanagan Johnson excoriated Fasano Monday over a mailer that was sent out by the Senate minority leader promoting an April 22 toll information forum in North Haven in his district. It shows 80 toll collection points, compared to 50 in the latest DOT map, which transportation officials have emphasized is for preliminary planning purposes. “It doesn’t matter how many times he is corrected, Sen. Fasano continues to peddle false information which does nothing to advance the honest dialogue we wish he’d have with the governor’s office,” Flanagan Johnson said. “Using thousands of dollars in state taxpayer resources in his quest to distort the truth and play politics is a new low.” Fasano bristled at the criticism, saying that the black-and-white map on the mailer makes the distinction between a 2018 tolling study by the DOT and Lamont’s proposal. He said it’s still unclear where 50 gantries proposed by Lamont’s administration would be located. “Their credibility on tolls is severely lacking,” Fasano said. “You can tell Colleen Fergus Flanagan, whatever her name is, that she’s a little disingenuous.” Fasano said that he requested all correspondence between the state DOT and federal transportation officials on tolling. There is no indication that Lamont’s latest proposal has been presented to them, said Fasano, who pointed out that the 2018 DOT toll study had been shared with the federal government in the documents he received. The GOP Senate leader is also disputing the toll pricing information released by Lamont’s administration, which has said that Connecticut E-ZPass holders would pay as low as 3.5 cents per mile with a discount for making at least 20 round-trips a month. “Their math doesn’t make any sense,” Fasano said. “You guys have a right to argue tolls work. But you don’t have a right to mislead people in Connecticut by making up numbers.” Flanagan said GOP toll foes have yet to offer a viable alternative to tolls, which Lamont’s administration has estimated would generate $800 million a year for long overdue transportation improvements. Republican are instead touting their own plan, known as Prioritize Progress, which would divert bonding money from school construction and other capital projects to transportation and avoid tolls. “We understand Senator Fasano is wedded to his plan to take out a $700 billion loan, 100 percent of which will be paid for by Connecticut citizens and future generations,” Flanagan Johnson said. State Sen. Alex Bergstein, a Greenwich Democrat who supports tolls and is vice chair of the Transportation Committee, said Fasano’s mailer is misleading. “Perhaps Senator Fasano is proposing new routes for tolls?” Bergstein said. “Because none of these roads are in any bill I’ve seen. I wonder why politicians aren’t sticking to the facts in our public discourse. Then people could see that the Republican ‘Prioritize Debt’ plan is $10 Trillion in new debt. Who thinks that’s a good idea?” Patrick Sasser, a small businessman from Stamford who is the co-founder of NoTollsCT.org, said it’s critical for Connecticut residents to understand the potential scope of tolls because lawmakers are likely to punt the difficult decisions on their location and price to the DOT. NoTollsCT.org, which Sasser said has collected more than 95,000 signatures of citizens who are opposed to tolls, is gearing up for a May 18 rally against tolls outside the Capitol. Fasano said toll foes are galvanized and that policy makers shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on the tepid turnout numbers at some protests. “People are pissed because Connecticut keeps pick-pocketing every chance it gets,” Fasano said. Lamont looking to borrow against future toll revenuesSUSAN HAIGHTolls might not appear on Connecticut highways for years to come, but Gov. Ned Lamont sees an opportunity for the state to obtain some much-needed transportation funding before the first overhead collector is even installed.The Democrat has suggested borrowing against the roughly $800 million a year the highway tolls are projected to generate. But that tactic has been partly blamed for the financial challenges facing at least one state, Ohio, where drivers now face hefty gas tax increases at the pump.“Once they know we’re going to be able to do our electronic tolling, we can borrow against those anticipated tolling revenues,” Lamont told reporters on Wednesday. The former businessman suggested such a move would allow the state’s Department of Transportation to jump-start spending on certain key transportation projects as it awaits the necessary federal approvals and the installation of tolls. That has been estimated to take anywhere from two to seven years.Lamont, who opposes increasing the gas tax, wants to install electronic tolls on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15 to “speed up our transportation system” and to “get this state moving again economically.” Connecticut, which has not had any tolls since the 1980s, faces an estimated $60 billion backlog of unfunded transportation infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the state’s main transportation account is projected to be insolvent by 2024.It remains unclear whether there will be enough support this year in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to pass a tolling bill, which is still being negotiated .Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who also opposed a gas tax increase, agreed in 2013 to sell bonds backed by future toll revenue from the Ohio Turnpike to raise $1.5 billion. It was pitched as an out-of-the-box way to spur funding for key projects. That money paid for 13 major projects within 75 miles of the turnpike, as well as other projects along the corridor. However, the state’s drivers are still left with crumbling roads, not enough money to fix them and the prospect of having to pay off that debt until 2048. That’s on top of existing transportation-related debt that Ohio owes.Faced with the prospect of not having the revenue to pay for any new highway improvement projects beginning July 1, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine this month signed a transportation budget that increases Ohio’s tax on gas by 10.5 cents a gallon and on diesel fuel by 19 cents. He called it a decision “no one relished.”Jonathan Peters, professor of finance and data analytics at The College of Staten Island School of Business and a tolling expert, said if Connecticut decides to follow Ohio’s lead, officials will need to consider the borrowing costs and how the state will fund both short- and long-term transportation projects.“Borrowing the money up front would allow you to have more flexibility to repair things today, but it would give up future opportunities for other repairs down the road because you’ve spent the money,” he said. “It’s not new money. It’s not magic money.”Lamont’s Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz said the administration is still in the very early stages of considering whether to borrow against future tolling revenue. He and other officials are looking at other states, including Ohio.“I think we have the benefit of hindsight for sure, which is to look at where has this gone really wrong,” Drajewicz said.He maintains Ohio officials “overshot by far” the projected revenues from tolls and “borrowed way too much against that.” He said the Lamont administration would be more conservative and only borrow against anticipated toll revenues for specific, priority projects, rather than seek a large block of upfront cash.“We very much don’t want to put the state in jeopardy when it comes to something like this,” he said.Drajewicz, state Treasurer Shawn Wooden and others have also been meeting with experts on public private partnerships to see if there’s an opportunity for Connecticut to work with a private entity to develop tolls.However, there’s skepticism at the state Capitol about whether Connecticut should follow the privatization route that some cities and states have taken.Joe Sculley, a lobbyist and president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, a trucking organization that opposes tolls, said there’s been a “pretty bad history” of governments trying to get upfront cash from leasing everything from highways to parking meters to private entities. He sees similarities to Lamont’s idea of borrowing money from a private backer against future toll revenues.“This is just such a complex issue, and I think that people just see money,” he said. “People see dollar signs and that’s as far as their gaze goes.” 04/16/2019

Norwalk development projects on display for CT senatorKelly KultysNORWALK — From the Walk Bridge to the SoNo Collection Mall to the construction at Washington Village, Sen. Chris Murphy received a “bird’s-eye view” of a variety of projects happening in the city.“In this job, you need to make sure you know all the local opportunities so that if some money shows up at the federal level, you know where it best fits,” Murphy said.Mayor Harry Rilling, along with Tim Sheehan, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, Jessica Casey, chief of economic and community development, and Steve Kleppin, director of planning and zoning, took Murphy on a bus tour through the city to show off current construction and potential future sites.The tour featured a look at development on Wall Street and West Avenue, the SoNo Collection mall, transit-oriented development projects around the South and East Norwalk train stations and the Washington Village replacement projects