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CT Construction Digest Thursday September 19, 2019

Middletown’s $87.35M combined middle school an investment ‘for our children’
Cassandra Day
MIDDLETOWN — City and Board of Education officials had a little fun Wednesday morning — a moment of glee — tossing shovels full of soil onto a large mound on the site of the city’s future combined middle school complex at 1 Wilderman’s Way.
The occasion was the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new facility for students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, which will incorporate students from Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Keigwin Middle School into an $87.35 million state-of-the-art building expected to be complete within the next two years.
Interacting with children is the highlight of school board Chairman Chris Drake’s time on the panel, which he did with the more than half-dozen students on hand for the event.
Much has changed since WWMS students left the school for summer break. Phase 1 of the plan — demolition — took place between June and August. When the children, teachers and staff returned Aug. 29, they discovered a changed landscape'
It’s been a long road to get to this day, Drake said, involving two and a half years of planning. That included preparing the site, demolishing the auditorium, and coming up with a busing plan for the intervening two years.
“A lot of that work is not very flashy, but it’s all groundwork before we do the fun stuff — which is to build a brand new building,” Drake said.
This is the first time a new middle school being built in Middletown since the 1960s, officials said.
“This is a major investment for our children, for our community: having a building that’s going to be state-of-the art, innovative, with a design studio in there,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Conner, who thanked Principal Cheryl Gonzalez for her years of effort.
“It’s going to propel the education factor within our community. This is a great project and you’re going to see Middletown continue to soar,” he added.
The building will be as environmentally friendly as possible, explained Common Council Deputy Majority Leader Mary Bartolotta, chairwoman of the Woodrow Wilson Building Committee.
“That’s great for our kids, our community, and also for our environment. We’re showing we want to be partners in being proactive in creating a healthy environment moving forward,” she said While younger, Bartolotta was among the last class to attend a standalone sixth-grade school just like Keigwin. In seventh grade, she moved to a combined facility.
“I enjoyed it. It was great, because there were mentoring programs going on that helped make sure kids, like myself, not feel intimidated,” she said.
Although the new school will have the three separate sections for each grade, there will be other areas where students can mingle.
“Having these larger partnerships within the common areas that will be brought together by the principals and the teachers, I think, is really going to build camaraderie, and help kids rise through the grades in a healthy manner,” Bartolotta said.
Conner has experience with both vertical and linear (grades by floor) models of middle schools.
“There are pros and cons to it, but from a developmental process, the research states it should be integrated — sixth, seventh and eighth — to promote social dynamics,” Conner said.
He and district staff are still in the formative stages of figuring out dynamics that might work best for Middletown students, such as family-style dining, during which teachers sit with the students as they all have lunch. Conner imagines them having candid discussions about leadership, social/emotional learning and other topics.
The project meets Connecticut high performance standards, Bartolotta said.“Connecticut’s green construction standards help achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emission, energy, and cost reduction goals while driving economic growth,” according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
These building standards are equal to the Leadership in Energy and Environment silver design building rating system, Bartolotta said.
Middletown Public Schools Director of Operations Marco Gaylord recalls the early days of the project, talking with retired Superintendent Of Schools Patricia Charles and former associate superintendent of schools Enza Macri.
“The old high schools have always been the hand-me-down,” Gaylord said, pointing to Woodrow Wilson, where the high school was before Middletown High School was constructed on La Rosa Lane.
He praised the new facility’s innovation and technology, as well as the committee’s selection of a tri-vertical house layout — in effect, a “school-within-a-school model,” according to Conner.
Each grade will have their own space on three floors, said Bartolotta, who acknowledged some Keigwin parents were concerned about “losing” sixth grade in the design.“I don’t think they should be nervous, they should be excited for the fact that sixth grade is still going to have its own space, and allow their kids to be the kids they need to be at that grade level,” Bartolotta said.
Multiple learning spaces being used simultaneously by students within a single class will encourage their educational development, she added.
“It’s going to grow with them in the future, as well. We’re laying the groundwork in this building for our technology that allows us to keep growing,” she said.
Reflecting on his involvement in the project, Drake said he feels very gratified. “There is a lot of hard work that goes into the process before you even put a shovel in the ground,” said Drake, who has two young children, one attending Macdonough Elementary School.
“If you look across the street, and you see what the city has achieved already, this is going to be like a campus,” Bartolotta said, with tight security and the fields, track and other amenities available at the Pat Kidney Sports Complex.
This summer, after extensive public input, a Board of Education middle school committee arrived at three names for the new facility, which would incorporate the city’s rich history: Beman Middle School, Beman-Douglas Middle School and Mattabesset Middle School.Drake said he expects the school board to take up the issue during a yet-to-be-scheduled special meeting during the first week in October, which would allow for ample public comment.

Millstone, utilities finalize 10-year contract
Benjamin Kail
Waterford — State regulators recently approved a 10-year contract between the owner of Millstone Power Station and utility companies, effectively ending the yearslong political, regulatory and environmental battles to keep the plant operational.
Gov. Ned Lamont, who stepped in earlier this year to help secure a deal between haggling Dominion Energy, Eversource and United Illuminating, applauded the finalized contract in a news release Wednesday.
“Had this contract not gone forward, the facility would be in danger of closing down, which would have increased greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent across the New England region,” said Lamont, who recently pushed for all of the state’s energy to come from clean sources by 2040. “Now we can renew our focus on offshore wind and other renewable energy resources.”
The contract calls on the utilities to buy half the plant’s output over the next decade. The price per kilowatt hour in the contract has not yet been released to the public, according to Dominion spokesman Ken Holt. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kristina Rozek said pricing will be available 90 days after contract approval, unless Dominion chooses to release it sooner.
"Today's approval by PURA of the power purchase agreement between Connecticut's utilities and Millstone is great news for Connecticut, its residents, and the women and men who work at Millstone," Paul Koonce, Dominion president and CEO, said in a statement. "Approving the contract ensures that for at least the next decade, Millstone will continue to power 2.1 million homes with around-the-clock, carbon-free electricity while providing more than $1.5 billion of annual economic benefits to Connecticut."
Facing high maintenance and security costs and stiff competition from natural gas, Virginia-based Dominion had threatened to shutter the 2,100-megawatt Millstone unless the state let it compete against higher-priced solar, wind and hydropower. Nuclear plants in New York, Illinois and New Jersey have faced early retirement before lawmakers in those states approved subsidies. Dominion closed Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin in 2013.
Former Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly paved the way for nuclear to compete as a zero-carbon power resource with legislation supporting Millstone in 2017. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and PURA later found Millstone to be at risk of early retirement, a prospect that jeopardized more than 1,000 jobs and inspired regulators to make dire predictions about potential environmental, economic and grid reliability impacts.
Millstone’s competitors and many renewable energy advocates argued Dominion didn’t have to close the plant, which regulators had found to be profitable even in worst-case economic scenarios.
But DEEP selected power from Millstone in a zero-carbon request for proposals late last year, and PURA finalized the contracts on Wednesday.
"These next 10 years matter for fighting climate change and decarbonizing the electric grid," DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said in a statement. "DEEP is excited to be identifying pathways to achieve a clean energy grid as part of the governor's executive order to expand renewable and other clean energy resources in a way that is affordable and reliable."
State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said in an interview that nuclear power would serve as a bridge to renewable energy such as offshore wind.
But she added that she hoped Millstone "would be around longer than the duration of the contract. I think wind and solar are a great idea, but I don't think we should jump to the conclusion that it's going to be a panacea. We have to take this step by step."

Gateway’s second residential phase breaks ground
Mary Biekert  
 East Lyme — With plans to start laying foundations for condo-style rentals next to the soon-to-open Costco, the proposed second phase of the Gateway Commons residential development off Exit 73 is moving forward this month.
Town officials and developers confirmed this week that people driving by the new development between Exits 73 and 74 on Interstate 95 will soon see more buildings going up after developers recently broke ground and as they pursue finishing the last piece of the proposed Gateway Commons development plan.
That plan, which has been in the works for nearly 15 years and was passed by the town in 2015, includes the Costco big box store — currently being constructed off Exit 74 — as well as an already existing 280-unit residential development at Exit 73 known as The Sound at Gateway Commons. The second phase of those residential developments soon will be given a formal name, said Newton C. Brainard, vice president of development and acquisition for The Simon Konover Co. of West Hartford, which is jointly developing the Gateway Commons site with KGI Properties of Providence.
Some of the second phase residential units will be open to new residents by late spring 2020, Brainard said.
Phase II site plans outline constructing an additional 120 units just southeast of the Phase I units. But Brainard said Tuesday that the new units will be much different from the first ones — which include studios, as well as one, two- and three-bedroom apartments — completed in 2015.
Namely, the new units will be built as condo-style apartments to be rented, and not purchased, by future residents — a rental option not widely available in the region, Brainard said.
“This will be the only townhome rental product of its kind in the region aside from The Ledges (in Groton),” Brainard said. “It will be exceedingly new for the whole region, and there’s really not much of these in all of Connecticut.”
“What we are seeing in other parts of New England, specifically in the Boston suburbs, is that this type of product is really starting to gain steam,” Brainard continued. “It accommodates an aging population moving out of their own homes. They still want their own front door and more space, and typical apartment communities just don’t allow for that.”
Each unit in Phase II will offer residents more privacy and solitude, as each will include its own attached garage and front door, Brainard said, while residents presently living in Phase I units share stairwells and hallways with their neighbors in large apartment complexes.
Phase II buildings, which will be built in three different architectural styles — either as a “manor home” or two differing “townhouse” style homes — also will look vastly different from Phase I apartments, which were built as almost identical three- or four-story buildings holding 28 units a piece.
Manor homes will include one- and two-bedroom apartments, while townhomes will offer only three-bedroom 1,700-square-foot apartments. Townhomes also will each include 2.5 bathrooms and a back deck, Brainard said.
Brainard said his company, Simon Konover Co., which owns and manages more than 7,000 units throughout New England and other parts of the country, will continue to own and manage the Phase II Gateway apartments once complete. He said he was not sure of the units’ rental pricing, but that the current Phase I three-bedrooms units, as a point of comparison, are presently rented for around $2,400 per month.
With that in mind, he said those units are 40 percent smaller and offer less privacy, and that the new, bigger units will be priced accordingly.
“What you are really getting is your own front door, your own garage and no one living above or below you. Right now, we have 40 three-bedroom apartments built out in Phase I and many of them have been taken by many who are 55 and older because they are moving out and selling their homes. They want to rent and they want some more space. But it’s not perfect for them because they aren’t thrilled about living next to 14 other families. But when you give them this, it’s like they have their own home again.”
Plans for the second phase of the residential development have already gone before and been passed by both the town’s Inland Wetland Agency and the Zoning Commission last year. After a preconstruction meeting held between town officials and developers Tuesday morning, Brainard said developers are waiting for a building permit to proceed but expect to receive that soon.    
The Zoning Commission approved in 2008 a master development plan for Gateway Commons and granted the developers in 2015 a revision to allow a total of 400 residential units.
Developers already have started clearing land at the 20-acre site. Brainard said that besides constructing a handful of both manor homes and townhouses, with more to be constructed later, developers also are building a club house, which will include a pool, and are extending East Society Road by another half-mile to reach the new complex.
Brainard said Tuesday that his company and KGI Properties have not yet started planning additions to the master plan.
“These are all our plans for the moment. We have to finish Costco and we have a year plus of this. So we are going to be laser-focused on just this over the next 24 months,” Brainard said.
He added, however, that the commercial aspect of the Gateway Commons masterplan does allow for about 425,00 square feet of commercial space and that Costco only takes up 170,000 square feet of that.
“So we do have the ability to plan for more commercial,” he said. “But there are severe traffic restrictions and we can’t really add more traffic into that area until the state comes in and re-does the bridge and the ramps.”
The Department of Transportation has said it will start Exit 74 bridge and interchange plans in 2021.
“We have to see how it all plays out. You have to be very confident in the state’s timing for all that, and I just don’t know how or when they are going to do it,” Brainard said.

Solar energy farm planned for Stonington
Joe Wojtas           
Stonington — A Middletown firm wants to create a solar energy farm with 16,680 panels on farmland off Taugwonk Spur Road.
Greenskies Renewable Energy, which had proposed installing hundreds of solar panels at the borough and Pawcatuck sewer treatment plants in 2017, has filed an application to construct, maintain and operate the Taugwonk Spur facility with the Connecticut Siting Council. Greenskies never went forward with the plan for the sewer treatment plants.
According to the plan submitted to the siting council, the panels would be located on 16.5 acres of an 87-acre parcel owned by Walter Robinson, which in part comprises the 151-acre Pequot Meadow Farm.
Greenskies' application states it will lease land from Robinson, who will continue to own the property and be able to continue farming other portions of it. Greenskies plans to connect the facility to the Eversource distribution system. If approved, Greenskies plans to begin work this year with the facility going online in the fall of 2020.
The land is zoned light industrial and greenbelt residential, both requiring a minimum lot size of 130,000 square feet. Taugwonk Spur is home to a small industrial park.
The land also borders the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 as well as the Thomas Miner Nature Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.
The application states Greenskies is an affiliate of Clean Focus Corp., which has headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. The firm states it has constructed, operates and maintains clean renewable energy sites across the United States, including 375 solar projects in 19 states. Their customers include Target, Walmart and Amazon.
The application states that commercial and residential development of the property would permanently impact the land, while their plan would have minimal environmental impact and allow farming to continue. The company also would be required to return the land to agricultural use when the solar panels are decommissioned.
Plans call for clearing 3 to 4 acres to minimize loss of sunlight to shade from trees.
The entrance to the site would be off Taugwonk Spur, which is located off Taugwonk Road just north of the Exit 91 ramps for I-95.
Detailed information about the applications is available at bit.ly/GSSNsolar.

State disagrees with New London’s argument over restrictions at State Pier
Greg Smith
New London — City officials say a 20-year-old municipal development plan governs the area surrounding State Pier and gives the city some input in the proposed activity there.
The state disagrees.
“We’re not subject to it,” said David Kooris, acting chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority and deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
In a recent interview with The Day, Kooris said the state’s legal interpretation of the 30-year State Pier Municipal Development Plan is that the actions contemplated in the plan have been completed.
The MDP for the 125 acres surrounding State Pier was initiated in the 1990s to allow the city, through the New London Development Corp., to acquire 8.6 acres and a dozen homes to allow the city to market the land for commercial use associated with State Pier.
The NLDC later transferred the property to the state Department of Transportation, which ran the pier prior to the formation of the Connecticut Port Authority, to allow it to expand the footprint of the pier to about 30 acres. The NLDC is now the Renaissance City Development Association.
“The MDP doesn’t really contemplate any more than that,” Kooris said. “The plan is still alive. It still has 10 more years, but the action has been completed. The fact that the plan still exists doesn’t constrain or enable or dictate what any property owner does within the project area.”
Eminent domain was not used in the State Pier plan, as opposed to a similar plan enacted at Fort Trumbull, where some of the properties were seized against the will of homeowners.
The city has argued that the MDP clearly states the plan doesn’t contemplate activity in coastal waters and that planned activity at the pier would trigger either a review by the RCDA or, for a larger modification, approval by City Council.
But Kooris said there are plenty of private properties in the project area, but outside of the “action area,” that are not restricted in any way by the MDP.
“Similarly ... the fact that we are doing something with our property that wasn’t contemplated in the MDP doesn’t having any bearing on what we’re doing because we’re not asking the redevelopment agency to do anything,” Kooris said.
Mayor Michael Passero said he was not surprised by the state’s position but awaits a written legal explanation. The city, he said, then can decide whether it wants to challenge the state’s position.
In the meantime, Passero said, he will continue to lobby for what he considers to be lost tax revenue from the state-owned property. He said he did not consider the MDP a roadblock to development but rather an opportunity for the city to have input on the development being negotiated by the Connecticut Port Authority and the partnership of wind power giant ├śrsted and electric utility Eversource.
Kooris said municipal development plans, a way to bestow rights to a redevelopment agency with a funding stream from the state, is a rarely used tool these days.
“It was a tool of the 1990s and early 2000s to a lesser extent,” Kooris said.
Rare instances where they are used are typically surrounding smaller localized projects, such as when land is needed to create a larger footprint for something like a school.

Alexion to put $10 million into New Haven facility
NEW HAVEN — Alexion Pharmaceuticals plans to invest $10 million in labs at its facility in the city to increase the company’s capacity to reach clinical studies of its rare disease research.
Gov. Ned Lamont, in a statement, said it is an employment opportunity for the state’s highly trained workers in a fast-growing sector. He said there are no state incentives involved in the project.
Founded as a start-up at Science Park 27 years ago, Alexion opened its 14-story headquarters in early 2016 here with the help of $51 million in state assistance.
It relocated its headquarters to Boston a year-and-a-half later, but left a research division at the 100 College St. site, where it has 500 workers. The company has paid back $28 million of the state’s investment.
Michael Piscitelli, the city’s acting economic development administrator, said the expansion is “great news” for the city. He said he got a heads-up about the Alexion notification Wednesday morning.
Alexion, in a statement, said its Global Product Development lab expansion at the 100 College St. site will be completed by the end of 2020. Yale University also announced in January that it would be leasing about half of the building for its science and engineering needs.
Piscitelli said there is a huge demand in New Haven for lab space, a need that was emphasized over and over at a recent bioscience forum in the city.
He said it dovetails with expansion of the Downtown Corridor now underway that will open space for another research building similar to Alexion’s $100 million headquarters, which was the first in the corridor.
Much of the physical spaces in the city with research labs have been developed through Winstanley Enterprises, which carried out Alexion’s development.
Piscitelli said lab space is extremely expensive, particularly for start-ups, but companies will be able to get assistance from CT Innovations, which helps bring early-stage companies to market. CT Innovations plans to relocate to an office at The District in New Haven.
Piscitelli said the largest share of National Institutes of Health grants to the Yale Medical School are in the area of neuroscience, which fits in with the $850 million construction project planned for the St. Raphael campus at Yale New Haven Hospital. There is also a large investment of federal dollars in cancer research at the medical school.
“Connecticut has the most highly trained, best educated workers in the nation, and Alexion’s expansion of its New Haven laboratory signifies progress in our state’s bioscience industry and an opportunity to grow good paying, high quality jobs here,” the governor said in a statement. “When a company of this size chooses to expand in our state, it signifies strength of the relationship between our state and this growing industry.”
Alexion said its lab expansion at the 100 College Street building “is intended to increase the company’s capacity and capabilities to advance the development of more early medicine candidates from pre-clinical studies into clinical studies.”
“It will also support the company’s ongoing efforts to develop new medicine delivery systems to improve patients’ treatment experiences,” the company said.
 
Editor’s Note: This is the third of six stories exploring how Connecticut is grappling with the effects of climate change, one small solution at a time.
With Harbor Brook running through its low-lying downtown, generations of Meriden residents have lived with water in their roads and basements after big storms and heavy winter runoff. One reason is because part of the brook – which is a lot closer to the size of a river — was buried underground and routed into a concrete-lined channel, which doesn’t drain like a natural waterway.
Worse yet, the area housed a silver manufacturing company that eventually turned into a brownfield and contaminated the floodwaters.Then climate change arrived on the scene, bringing bigger, more violent storms with more rain.
“With culverts, undersized bridges and a retaining wall – the water had nowhere to go but out,” said Howard Weissberg, the city’s director of public works. “Every major storm event resulted in flooding.”
Storms in 1992 and 1996 each caused $25-$30 million in damage.
But since 2016, Meriden has had far fewer water worries thanks to an innovative flood control concept called Meriden Green. City planners, landscape architects and others who do climate resilience work in Connecticut think it should be a model for every community.
The core of the project has turned the brownfield area and the river that runs through it – which is now above ground – into a 14-acre park that doubles as a detention basin for water in flood events. The remediation is designed to spur economic development and housing in the area, which had become undesirable if not unusable.
In 2007, the city received nearly $3 million in state and federal grants to study what to do with the site, which at that point was home to a failed mall.
“We knew we had a big problem on our hands. It was now or never,” said Juliet Burdelski, a city planner by training who served as Meriden  economic development director until this year. “We hadn’t had a major flood in a while, but the clock was ticking.”
Plans were in the works when Tropical Storm Irene came through in 2011, followed by Superstorm Sandy a year later. “It verified what we were doing,” Burdelski said.
The system began working even as it was being constructed, collecting and draining the water the way it was intended.
“There was confusion in the public – ‘oh it’s flooding,’ Burdelski said. “No, it’s not – its detaining the water.”
Meriden Green, which cost about $14 million to construct, now contains a completely freed Harbor Brook that properly drains. The brownfield relics have been removed. There are walking and biking paths and an amphitheater. There are a couple of other detention ponds, one up, the other downstream of the green.
New and rehabbed historic buildings are in progress or available for housing – including affordable units — and commercial space, all accessible to the new commuter rail station.
The flood control work, which will total $60-$70 million – isn’t quite finished. When it is, the flooding mitigation will have removed 220 commercial and residential properties from the floodplain, which will eliminate the need for prohibitively pricey flood insurance.
 Weissberg said he recently was talking to a young couple who were paying $300 a month for flood insurance. When he told them about the floodplain changes around downtown housing, he said their response was, “Great, where do I sign?”
The lesson for other community leaders – and many have come to look at Meriden’s work – is that flood control is not political and can be useful and attractive. That’s been proven any number of times since the Meriden Green portion has been in place.
But Weissberg said he has to keep reminding people that while Meriden Green may look like just a park, it’s not.
“The park needs to function as a flood control structure first,” he said.

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