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CT Construction Digest Thursday August 29, 2019

Bridgeport looks to new school improvements as it closes in on new Bassick site
Linda Conner Lambeck
BRIDGEPORT — City officials are getting close to a deal that would put a new Bassick High School on the former Harvey Hubbell property on State Street.
The 8-acre property, split in the middle by Bostwick Avenue, is reportedly big enough that sport fields can be built on one side of Bostwick, with a four story school on the other.
“As of today, there is more work to be done, but it looks like there is a clear path for a new location for a new Bassick High School which include on-site sport facilities,” Mayor Joseph Ganim said.
The announcement came Wednesday, as Ganim also laid the groundwork for what he said will be an Educational Task Force to create a new capital plan for the school district. It would be the first one in more than two decades.
The task force would include school and city officials and would spend months evaluating the needs of the district’s inventory of 37 properties. At least two schools in the district — Sheriden and Classical Studies — were built in the late 1800s. Several others are a century old.
Acting Schools Superintendent Michael Testani and School Board Chairman John Weldon attended the press conference. The rest of the school board was reportedly not informed of the plan until receiving an email Wednesday afternoon.
“I wish I, as a board member and a member of the school building committee, knew about this announcement before the day of,” said Joseph Sokolovic. “I would’ve liked to have attended. Too bad all these initiatives are popping up at the last minute. I hope they are still in place after the primary.”The announcement of the city/school task force comes less than two weeks before Ganim faces a Democratic primary battle for another term as mayor.
After the press conference, Ganim said his reelection was not his motivation in announcing the new building task force now. Instead, he credited a new partnership forged with Testani.
“No disrespect to his predecessor, but there just wasn’t the engagement there is now,” Ganim said. “You have to give him a lot of credit for that.”
Building Bridgeport’s Future
Ganim said a yet-to-be-formed task force will create a road map for improving the school district’s existing facilities by commissioning a study and then prioritizing what needs to be done.
The effort, he said, will be huge, involving not just city and school officials but the city’s legislative delegation as well since the lion’s share of capital dollars would come from the state.“It will be as sweeping and comprehensive as it needs to be,” Ganim said. “I can’t tell what it is going to involve or how many schools, but it will look at all of the schools (inside and out).”
Weldon called the district’s buildings a difficult portfolio to manage and prioritize.
“There are a lot of moving parts and we have to move together,” he said.
Ganim doesn’t see the effort running into a road block with Gov. Ned Lamont’s self-declared state debt diet.
“I don’t know how long debt diet will last,” Ganim said.
What he envisions is a multiple-year request. Ganim said the city contribution could amount to $100 million. City Finance Director Ken Flatto said he expects it to be much less.
“I make the argument that Bridgeport should not be included in the debt diet,” Ganim said. “It’s too important. Nothing should be a higher priority.”
A new Bassick
Testani said as excited as he is about the capital plan, he is more excited about the new Bassick, which has been years in the making.
The new $115 million project — $90 million of which will come from the state — was to be built on the current Fairfield Avenue property but issues arose with destroying the 1929 portion of the structure and where to put Bassick students during construction. Busing Bassick students across the city to the former Harding High School was an idea that was universally panned.
Using the Hubbell site will allow Bassick students to stay where they are until construction is complete.
City Council Member Marcus Brown, co-chair of the building committee, said he is more than excited that the new Bassick will have a regulation-size football and soccer field.“It looks like it is going to come to fruition,” Brown said.
Bassick is the last of the city’s high schools to be rebuilt.
Ganim said the property still needs a fair value appraisal. Whether the current Bassick site is part of the deal to build on the Hubbell site has not been determined.
The process could take a couple of months but Ganim deemed it to be in good shape — “Much more than a month ago,” he said.

Norwich takes first step to create Franklin Square roundabout
Claire Bessette
Norwich — The downtown traffic pattern could change dramatically by next summer, as the city took the first step in a project to create a roundabout at Franklin Square.
The city received six responses Tuesday from engineering firms interested in doing the design and engineering for the roundabout project, which would allow for traffic flow in all directions at Main and Franklin streets. The project also would include a design for the center island and a plan to widen sidewalks in spots to allow merchants to offer outdoor seating or vending.
The firms, all from Connecticut, will be reviewed by a committee that will select finalists to be interviewed before the city selects a consultant to design the project, Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin said Tuesday. He hopes to have the finalist selected by Nov. 1. The city then would negotiate a contract with the firm to design the specifications to go out to bid for construction.
McLaughlin hopes construction can be done next spring and summer.
The city in December received a $400,000 state grant through the State Department of Transportation Community Connectivity Program. McLaughlin said the city anticipates the project could cost a bit more than that, and the city would have to pay for any costs in excess of the grant. The city also is paying for the design and engineering costs.
The project calls for eliminating the confusing current traffic arrangement in Franklin Square, which is really a triangle. Vehicles enter Franklin Street heading north from Main Street along two, one-way strips, one from the east and the other from the west. The city converted Franklin Street from one-way to two-way traffic in May 2017, but traffic heading south toward Main Street can’t get there directly. Vehicles turn right onto Bath Street and then left onto lower Broadway to Main Street.
With the planned roundabout, southbound Franklin Street traffic will be able to go directly to Main Street.
“It will be better traffic circulation,” McLaughlin said.
The six firms who submitted responses to the city’s request for qualifications for design firms are: Alfred Benesche & Co. of Glastonbury, AI Engineers Inc. of Middletown, Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire, Weston & Sampson of Rocky Hill, Fuss & O’Neill of Manchester and VHB of Wethersfield.
Mayor Peter Nystrom, a member of the City Council Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee, said he is especially eager to see proposed engineering designs that incorporate the wider sidewalks for outside use by businesses and to make the downtown center “more pedestrian user-friendly.”

With zoning changes, Groton officials hope to boost growth around sub base
Kimberly Drelich     
Groton — When the zoning district around the Naval Submarine Base was created 35 years ago, among its main purposes was to promote businesses serving tourists and the Navy.
But growth has not met expectations, a consultant said during a presentation Tuesday. Now the town is considering changing the zoning to better promote suitable development in the area, while still ensuring protections and compatibility with the base, Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus.
Jeff Davis, senior planner with the consulting firm Horsely Witten Group, outlined the proposal during an informational meeting on Tuesday evening that followed a site walk. Davis said that after hearing that the Planning and Zoning Commission and property owners are so far comfortable with the direction, he will formally draft a proposal of the discussed changes, which is expected to be presented to the commission for review at its next meeting.
Any proposed changes would have to go to a public hearing at a later date.
The zoning review is part of a larger Joint Land Use Study, through the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and funded by the Department of Defense, that is analyzing economic conditions and zoning, as well as housing and transportation needs related to Electric Boat and the sub base, according to the presentation. 
With a net 5,000 new employees projected at Electric Boat over the next 30 years, Groton could see as many as 150 new households by 2025, he said. In addition, the projected growth in manufacturing means greater demand for retail, medical offices, and flexible industrial space and continued office demand.
The town's recently approved comprehensive zoning update includes two new mixed-use zones expected to absorb a lot of the demand for apartments and other types of housing, he said. A new mixed-use industrial district hopefully will absorb a lot of the economic demand for such uses.
With the expected growth and economic and housing changes being addressed in other parts of town, consultants and the town are taking a "step back" to determine how to meet the needs of the area around the sub base and people who own property there, he said.
Davis said the Navy is interested in mixed-use walkable development, particularly along the Route 12 corridor, that could help serve the employees of the base, while there's generally a preference to minimize development along Crystal Lake Road for security and traffic purposes.
He said the town's Plan of Conservation and Development also has identified the area in the vicinity of the sub base, designated as the Nautilus Memorial Design District, or NMDD, as needing to be re-evaluated.
For the most part, the district has seen little development, though a significant apartment complex being built by A.R. Building Co. on Pleasant Valley Road North is likely the largest development there in the past decade, Davis said. The first of three apartment buildings is open, and a second is under construction, said Jon Reiner, the town's director of planning and development.
The town is looking at rezoning most of the NMDD to a Commercial, Neighborhood, or CN, zone, which most closely matches the area's existing mix of housing, retail and services, according to Davis' presentation. An additional overlay zone would cover three parcels on the western end of Crystal Lake Road, closest to the naval base entrance, to restrict the area to uses more compatible with the base and provide additional dimensional standards for development.
A stretch of properties with single-family homes along Pleasant Valley Road North is proposed to be rezoned as residential, or RU-20, according to Davis' presentation.
The NMDD provides general guidelines but not much concrete guidance, and every proposed development in the zone requires a special permit. The proposed CN would allow similar uses as the NMDD but be more concrete, and fewer uses would require a special permit or conditions. Similarly, the proposed RU-20 zone also has clearly outlined permitted uses.     
"We hope that this will remove uncertainty, will reduce time and expense for property owners who want to develop or redevelop properties in the district," Davis said.
Representatives of the town, naval base, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, Horsley Witten Group, and a property owner had walked the area Tuesday afternoon prior to the informational meeting attended by about four members of the public. The Planning and Zoning Commission then held a meeting in the evening.
Steve Woodruff, who owns property on Route 12, said during the informational meeting that he is pleased to see the zoning initiative. "I know this has been a point of contention with the businesses along there that it was so restrictive that it really hamstrung us, so I just want to say thank you and we’re pleased to see some positive developments here," he said.
Adam Wright, community planning and liaison officer with the Naval Submarine Base, said after the site walk and the informational meeting that he is happy the property owners in attendance seemed glad to see some changes.
"Certainly, our goal from the sub base is to be a good neighbor," he said, "and to the extent that good zoning changes can enhance compatible use for both the Navy and the townspeople, this is a very positive development."
Davis said the feedback so far has been positive, but one of the big question marks is the single-family home parcels being proposed to change from NMDD to RU-20. He said while they look like they are all being used for strictly residential uses, he wants to make sure the project "isn't stepping on anyone's toes."
Reiner said the town is seeking public feedback so it can incorporate it into the process as it looks at the zoning. There is no formal application yet.
"We want to make sure all property owners know what's happening and are involved, and none of this is set in stone yet," he said.
Assistant Planning Director Deb Jones said the town will let property owners known when an application has been filed and a public hearing on proposed zone changes will be held.
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