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CT Construction Digest August 30 2019

Downtown Danbury to get $4 million face-lift
Rob Ryser
DANBURY — City Hall’s latest attempt to infuse new life into a once-thriving Main Street corridor calls for $4 million worth of granite-inlayed sidewalks, street amenities and ornamental trees.The Streetscape Renaissance Project could begin as soon as mid-November, when voters will have decided whether Republican Mayor Mark Boughton or Democratic challenger Chris Setaro will lead them into a new decade.The new streetscape idea was unveiled in the spring as part of a larger $250,000 study about fueling downtown renewal. The study’s recommendations included revitalized nightlife, rebuilt streetscapes, abundant public art, 1,200 new apartments and a $27 million transit center.
The hope is to make Main Street the cultural centerpiece it was for decades, or at least bring the downtown core up to speed with the rest of Danbury, which is one of the fastest growing cities in the state.
The reality is Main Street is a neighborhood of mixed signals.
On one hand, more shops and businesses have closed than have opened in recent months — including Danbury Democratic Party chairwoman Andrea Gartner’s Pour Me cafĂ©. On the other hand, a $13 million apartment complex could begin construction in the fall at the former News-Times building site, across the street from the 375-unit Kennedy Flats complex.
In contrast City Hall’s streetscape project is a small step in the longer journey to downtown economic revitalization.
The streetscape project, half of which is being paid for with a $2 million state grant, includes the heart of Main Street and Kennedy Avenue, along with the streets near the CityCenter Green, and the streets near the Danbury Ice Arena.
“We are going to get a lot done with this project,” Boughton said.
Setaro has faulted Boughton for allowing the Main Street corridor to languish.
The city plans to replace its asphalt-patched sidewalks with scored concrete and granite inlays, and install larger tree planters with room for annuals and perennials.Main Street medians will be redesigned with new plantings and trees to replace the two dozen cherry trees that were cut down in 2017 because they were not growing or blooming.
In all, 200 trees will be planted in the Main Street corridor including Honey Locust, Ornamental Pear, Sugar Maple, and English Oak, according to a project outline on the city website.

Grasso Tech students start school year in brand-new building
Kimberly Drelich
Groton — Ella T. Grasso Technical High School seniors Logan Woodall and Mariana Latorre remember when construction started next to their school during their freshman year.
Every morning, students looked out from their bus and saw the site changing and the new school taking shape over time, they said.
Students were excited — and a little nervous — Thursday to step foot into the new 226,000-square-foot, three-story building with "GT" on the outside. The interior of the building features blue and gray tones to match the school's colors, as well as wood paneling, large windows and bright lighting.
"I'm super excited to actually finally be here and understand everything that's going to be going on and experience the whole new school," Woodall said.
He and Latorre said the facility made them feel more motivated to learn. They described the school as welcoming, prestigious and professional.
"It’s a lot more high tech," Latorre said. "We have a lot more new technology here compared to our old school."
The climate-controlled building includes a new auditorium with more than 300 seats, a student-run restaurant, classrooms and shop areas, a college-style cafeteria, a library media center with stations where students can sit and work together, and a gym and fitness center with new equipment.
Principal Patricia M. Feeney expressed excitement about the brand-new space and programs that have been added this year.
She said the school is providing a new four-year welding program and a new four-year digital media program. The school also is offering a two-year guest services and hospitality management program for juniors and seniors.
Construction on the approximately $128 million project, funded through the state Department of Administrative Services, started in June 2017, Feeney said.
The former school facility was aging and had issues, from leaks at times when it rained to an HVAC system and other infrastructure in need of repairs, she said. With little cost difference between a complete renovation and building a brand-new facility, the decision was made to build a new school on existing acreage, she said.
The school buildings are similar in size, but the older building had unused space, while the layout in the new building is more conducive for a high school setting, she said.
"It's a very inviting, very welcoming atmosphere," Feeney said.
Dean of Students Jonathan Grossman said the new school — which has the capacity to accommodate 800 students in the future — provides an academic, professional environment for students.
"They're more motivated to be here, to learn in their shops and excel," he said.
The second phase of the school project entails demolishing the old building in the late fall and early spring and then beginning to build athletic fields, Feeney said.
Athletic Director Gregg Antoch said an athletic complex with a turf field, track and field house will be installed on the site of the old school, while the existing soccer field will be turned into a baseball and softball complex.
Antoch said Grasso Tech hopes the "state-of-the-art" athletic facilities will draw in more students and allow the school to offer more sports programs on site. Students at Grasso Tech, which is part of a football co-operative, are bused to Norwich to play football, but Grasso hopes it will host football with the new turf complex. The school also is looking at adding lacrosse on site.
On Thursday, students walked the hallways and looked at the new space and started their school year in new classrooms and shops. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors started school on Thursday, while seniors will start school on Friday. Latorre and Woodall were at school on Thursday because they are student mentors.
Latorre had looked through the windows into the hairdressing shop and said it was nicely lit and more spacious and inviting.
"It looks so pretty," she said.
"I just feel like everything's just more up-to-date and you can actually interact with everyone a little easier from what I noticed," said Woodall, who is in the drafting shop, adding that overall there is more and better equipment.
Teachers also were excited about the new facility.
Peter Barber, welding instructor, said the welding shop is the best he's ever seen or worked in. He will be teaching students primarily welding and fabrication, which will prepare them for careers at Electric Boat and other manufacturing companies, along with other jobs.
"Locally, there's a huge demand," he said.
At a time when the automotive industry is expected to change immensely over the next five years, John Blake, head of the automotive department, said the school's technology is "right on the cutting edge."
"I love this shop," said Blake, as he stood in the space with new equipment, drop lights and large windows. "This is state-of-the-art all the way."

Unions favor controversial highway tolls; opposition continues

Key union leaders called Thursday for the state legislature to approve electronic highway tolls in Connecticut - a long-running issue that continues to cause controversy.
Nearly 25 top officials in the Connecticut State Building Trades Council and the state AFL-CIO asked the state House of Representatives and Senate to approve the tolls as soon as possible.
For years, tolls have prompted fierce opposition from Republican legislators and opponents who say they are nothing more than another tax. Despite hearings in recent years, tolls have never been approved by the legislature. No special sessions have been scheduled this summer to debate the issue, and Republicans say that the legislature simply does not have enough votes to approve tolls.
Toll booths were removed from Connecticut highways three decades ago after a fiery crash in Stratford and have never returned.
The construction of tolls would be a major job-creator, and the union leaders said that the construction industry has not fully recovered from the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession of 2008-09 that accelerated with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank on Wall Street. Of nearly 21,000 construction jobs that were lost, only 88 percent have been recovered, according to the unions. Overall, the state had nearly 61,000 construction jobs as of five months ago.
"We’re still down 7 percent from the peak, and the outlook is still shaky,'' Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said in the two-page letter. "It’s shakier than it’s been in a long time. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now in Connecticut as far as public construction.''
The letter was signed by AFL-CIO president Sal Luciano, AFL-CIO executive vice president Jan Hochadel, and David Roche, the president of the Connecticut Building Trades Council and general vice president of the AFL-CIO.
“When our members are employed, not only do they do the essential work of building our infrastructure, they pay taxes and contribute to overall economic growth,” the letter states. “It is important for our economy that Connecticut invest heavily in infrastructure projects that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says, ‘will boost productivity, support business growth, create jobs, provide a healthier environment, and improve opportunities for all of [their] residents.’”
Gov. Ned Lamont strongly supports tolls, and his administration has estimated that the tolls would generate about $800 million per year - depending on the number of overhead gantries and the pricing of the tolls. As estimated 40 percent of the money would be paid by out-of-state drivers.
The union leaders say that Connecticut’s highways and bridges are badly in need of repairs, citing a grade of C - by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2018.
The letter states that the engineers said that “much of Connecticut’s infrastructure is over 50 years old, meaning it is beyond its intended life… Investing in infrastructure will foster opportunities for our economy to grow in a sustainable fashion and support ongoing prosperity.”
Protesters have repeatedly arrived at the state Capitol to speak out against tolls, and they spoke to Lamont on Monday morning when he returned to the Capitol for the first time since a summer vacation on the island of North Haven, Maine.
Patrick Sasser of Stamford, a strong opponent of tolls, said "it boggles my mind'' that all the money that was supposed to go into the special transportation fund has not always gone into the fund in the past.
"They want to impose tolls and put another tax on people,'' Sasser said. "They’re not saying a word about all that money being diverted.''

Haskell hints at upcoming “major” news while talking tolls, other issues with Himes in Norwalk
Justin Papp
NORWALK — State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, hinted at the possibility of some upcoming transportation news while talking about the most recent tolls plan with the Norwalk Rotary Club.
The group also received a congressional update from U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.
When asked about tolls, Haskell told the small group gathered at the Norwalk Inn that incorporating gantries “is absolutely crucial to funding our infrastructure.”Haskell said the state has 335 structurally deficient bridges and Metro-North is slower today than it was in 1952. To fix the state’s ailing infrastructure, the legislator said there were three options.
“It’s raising taxes, which is enormously unpopular among Democrats and Republicans, I think, (or) taking on additional debt which is what Connecticut has done for decades, and I think that’s tremendously unfair for the next generation,” Haskell said. “And the third option is to choose a user fee on those folks who do travel through Connecticut.”
Haskell talked about congestion pricing, which would raise the price for trucks during peak hours, charging out-of-state prices and discounting drivers who pass under gantries more than 20 times a month. He added that part of the hold up on tolls has been a failure to court Republican votes, though he alluded to future developments.
“But I do think we’re going to see major transportation news in September,” he said, although he didn’t elaborate further.
Himes, meanwhile, told the group that congressional gridlock has not hindered progress in areas like combating the opioid epidemic or reforming the federal penal system.
“Even in these polarized times, there is progress being made,” Himes told a small group of Norwalk Rotary Club members at the Norwalk Inn. The congressman was joined by state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, when he provided the group with a congressional update.
Opioids and incarceration were two of many topics Himes tackled at the short briefing, which included a question and answer session. Himes also addressed the cluttered field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 election, the impending threat of a recession, the crisis at the border and national security spending.
He listed lowering healthcare costs and investing in infrastructure among the things he’s working on day-to-day.
“The president understands building, he understands infrastructure, so my hope is that that’s not dead, that we could get a deal done where we actually do invest a couple trillion dollars on infrastructure,” Himes said. “We’re going to do it someday. We’ve got to do it sooner rather than later.”
Asked which two Democratic presidential candidates would battle for the party’s nomination, Himes narrowed it down to Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. Biden is a “moderate” Democrat, as opposed to Sanders, who is “way out there,” Himes said.“Bernie, he seems to be like an ‘upset the apple cart’ kind of guy, whereas Warren, Warren will tell you this, ‘I’m a market capitalist, I just want the markets to be fair,’ ” Himes said.
Himes, who has been a vocal critic of President Donald J. Trump, was relatively complimentary of the president for his handling of the tensions with Iran and his views on American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s no secret that I’m a critic, but I will also give him points for being pretty skeptical about our expenditures and our profile in places like Afghanistan and Iraq,” Himes said, crediting Trump for not getting baited into another Middle East war.

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