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CT Construction Digest Thursday October 31, 2019

Danbury border tolls proposal dead, Marconi says
Rob Ryser
A controversial proposal to put tolls at Danbury’s border with New York on Interstate 84 is dead, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
Marconi says he has received Gov. Ned Lamont’s assurance twice this month that general tolling on the Merritt Parkway, Interstate 95, Interstate 91, and Interstate 84 “will not be implemented as was originally planned.”“This means there will be no border tolls - or tolls of any type - in the Danbury area and no possible diversion of traffic into Ridgefield due to tolls,” Marconi said in a prepared statement.
Marconi said he was first informed by Lamont that there would be no border tolls on Oct. 19.
“This was confirmed again during a call with the governor's office on Oct. 29,” Marconi said in a prepared statement.
Lamont’s assurance to Marconi that tolls are being considered only for “superstructures like a new bridge or other similar features that require large-scale construction” is good news for Danbury.
Danbury’s City Council passed a resolution on Oct. 4 against implementing tolls.
“Hopefully we can send a clear message to Hartford here tonight that Danbury and people in Danbury do not want tolls,” council member John Esposito III said.

Toll opposition ramps up again as Lamont pitches new plan
Christine Stuart
HARTFORD — No Tolls CT, which registered as a lobbying organization back in June, is sending out mailers to thousands of Connecticut residents.
It’s the latest step in their effort to prevent officials from erecting electronic tolls on a dozen bridges or highway choke points.
The mailer says “Connecticut wants to tax you for driving to work.” It includes bullet points about how much money was diverted before reaching the Special Transportation Fund and how much Connecticut spends to maintain and repair its roads.
Gov. Ned Lamont is meeting with legislative leaders this week to get their final feedback on his 10-year, $18-billion proposal to improve Connecticut’s roads, rail, and public transit. Lawmakers were privately briefed on a proposal that reduces the number of tolls from 50 to around a dozen.
In a letter the group sent to lawmakers last week, Patrick Sasser, founder of No Tolls CT, said they appreciate the reduction in gantries, but still won’t support any proposal that includes tolling based on their lack of trust in government.
Following an unrelated event in Waterbury Tuesday, Lamont said they are trying to fix the choke points in Connecticut’s transportation system in a fiscally responsible way. He said he’s meeting with lawmakers and next week plans to make it public.
“I think people are honestly giving it a second look,” Lamont said. “We got a lot of feedback from the legislature the last time around.”
Lamont’s first proposal made in February didn’t gain much steam and was never raised for a vote in either chamber.
But Lamont believes there’s a better understanding of the problem.
“We convinced people it’s not a problem that will go away,” Lamont said.
 Lamont said that in order to access the low-interest loans from the federal government the state is going to have to provide a revenue stream and some of that will come from tolls that will be paid, at least in part, by out-of-state drivers.
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who endorsed tolls when he ran for governor back in 2010, said Lamont assured him that general tolling on I-95, I-91, the Merritt Parkway, and I-84 will not be implemented, which means there will be no border tolls in the Danbury area and no possible diversion of traffic into Ridgefield because of tolls.
“The governor told me that the only tolling currently being contemplated was for superstructures like a new bridge or other similar features that require large-scale construction,” Marconi said Tuesday in a press release. “In those instances, any tolling would be local to the project and would remain in place only until the bond was paid off.”
Sources who have been briefed on Lamont’s proposal said all the tolls would be removed once the billions in improvements were made over the 10-year period. Sasser and others have said that Lamont’s decision not to release municipal funding for road improvements could be a mistake.
Lamont has declined to release the money through the Bond Commission until he can reach a deal on his transportation plan.
“The governor is playing a dangerous game as we head into winter,” Sasser said. “Attempting to withhold money promised to municipalities for things like snow-plowing to gain support for his new plan is more trick than treat.”
Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said that towns and cities have been dipping into their reserves and others are holding off on projects until the state approves the funding. Many town officials are concerned about what adjustments they will need to make in the next month or so as winter approaches and the need for road salt and other supplies increases.

State money will fund improvements on Myrtle, East Main streets in New Britain
Ciara Hooks
NEW BRITAIN - The city has secured $3.67 million from the state Department of Transportation’s Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program to make necessary improvements to East Main and Myrtle streets. The contract has been awarded to Martin Laviero Contractor Inc. of Bristol.
“This critical funding will help us continue implementing our award-winning Complete Streets and Downtown Livability Master Plan,” said Mayor Erin Stewart, who announced the state funding Wednesday.
The plan is aimed at creating a safe, more pedestrian-friendly and attractive environment downtown.
This construction is part of Phase 6 of the reconstruction project of East Main Street between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Main Street.
“We are thrilled to continue the project in front of New Brite Plaza and make necessary road improvements in the area,” said Stewart.
The work includes milling and overlaying of Myrtle Street between Main Street and Washington Avenue. It also entails the replacement of catch basin tops and installation of new catch basins, new granite curbing, and new concrete and brick sidewalks and pedestrian ramps to meet current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Further, the existing traffic signal at the Route 72 ramp will be replaced and there will be installation of new signs and pavement markings, removal of impacted existing trees and installation of new trees.
Future phases of the city’s master involve work on Columbus Boulevard and Washington Street and Chestnut Street near Harry Truman Overpass.
Work the latest phase is expected to begin Friday.

Groton seventh-graders get first look at their future school
Kimberly Drelich
Seventh-graders from West Side Middle School walk across the construction site of the new Groton Middle School after taking a tour Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, by the construction company, O&G Industries.  Earlier they and seventh-graders from Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School were given a presentation by project manager Amy Samuelson, of the architectural firm SLAM, showing what the school will look like when finished in 2020. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Groton — Wearing neon vests, safety glasses and hard hats, seventh-graders trekked through the future Groton Middle School on Wednesday to take their first look at what will be their new school.
At the construction site adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School, workers were busy offloading materials into the building, pouring concrete and installing plumbing, electrical and mechanical components for the consolidated middle school slated to be completed by the end of June.
Project managers, along with school officials, guided about 30 West Side STEM Magnet Middle School students on a tour.
"Where we’re standing right now is the future cafeteria of this building," Ryan Benoit, project manager with O&G Industries, told the students as they stood in a large, unfinished space, where a worker stood on a scissor lift. Benoit then showed them where other features will be, including the theater room, kitchen, classrooms and administration offices.
The students then walked up to the second floor, where Benoit pointed out ductwork and piping that, once the project is completed, will be out of sight behind walls or above ceilings.
In one part of the building, the students looked down to the courtyard where an outdoor classroom is planned. West Side teachers Laura Irace, Lisa Lambert and Rachel Lorinser are designing the outdoor classroom with students, along with colleagues at Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School, Superintendent Michael Graner said.
"I feel like it's going to be a good school to go to," said Reese Bogue, a seventh-grader at West Side STEM Magnet Middle School. "It's very big, so there’s going to be a lot of classrooms and a lot of new people I'm going to meet. I'm excited about that."
“I’m really excited for next year, and I wish they also had maybe ninth and tenth grade because I want to stay in this school more than one year," said Layan Faraj, 12, a seventh-grader at West Side, adding that the school is really big.
She said she's so glad she had the opportunity to get to go inside the middle school and meet the architects and see what they do. They even talked about their education, too.
Lorinser said it seems the new building will incorporate both of the town's two current middle schools really well and their different themes and pathways to support both STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — and arts and humanities.
"It was very fun to get a first-hand view of what the space is going to look like," she said.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, seventh-graders from Cutler and West Side learned about the new middle school during a presentation in the auditorium at Fitch High School, and lined up to ask questions. A group of Cutler students also went on a tour of the site, Graner said.
The new school will have a four-story academic wing, as well as spaces for the gymnasium, the library media center, a cafeteria that will seat about 360 students, a black box theater, makerspace and other features, Amy Samuelson, project manager for the architecture firm The SLAM Collaborative, said.
There will be a separate entrance for school buses and a separate entrance for visitors and parent drop-offs to keep the traffic safe and controlled, she said.
School buses will come in through the Fitch High School entrance and then make a turn into the middle school site, Graner said. Parents will enter through the Ella T. Grasso Technical High School driveway and then continue onto a new road, which will be constructed, to the middle school.
Graner said Wednesday's visit was six years in the making and began with the vision of bringing all the middle school students together into one state-of-the art facility to provide quality education.
The U.S. Department of Education officially approved that Groton Middle School can pursue a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — program, which will blend together the best elements of STEM and arts and humanities, Graner said. Children will have the opportunity to pursue a STEM pathway, or an arts and humanities pathway, or both, he said.
Graner said he told the seventh-graders that the construction of the new middle school represents the beginning of a whole new chapter in the history of Groton Public Schools — and they are going to play a major role in that.
As eighth-graders when the school opens next year, they will set the tone of the school, he said. He called on them to be both smart and kind. He said one of his teachers once told him the goal of education is to develop children who are smart — so they can solve problems facing the world — and kind, because the world needs respect and civility.
Graner said he asked the students to provide suggestions to their teachers about the kinds of clubs and programs they would like to see in the school, so the students will have a strong voice in the planning process.
School officials will be planning this year for the transition to the new middle school next year. The school will open on Sept. 8, 2020, for the 2020-21 school year, he said.
Graner said he briefed both Cutler and West Side teachers on the project and its progress. Teachers were asked to sign up for subcommittees — on topics related to the transition, including scheduling, rules and regulations, and outreach to parents — that will meet throughout this year.  
"More than Words," a diversity club, also is helping to ensure the transition is smooth, including by working directly with sixth- and seventh-graders, Graner said.

Developer breaks ground on $200M Avon Village Center project
Sean Teehan
Construction on a $200 million mixed-use development in Avon that has been held up in the permitting process for more than a year officially kicked off Wednesday.
“The process of permitting is a difficult process, you have to go through a whole set of state and local processes,” said Kelly Coates, CEO of Rhode Island developer Carpionato Group, which is helming the Avon Village Center project that is being described as a “live-work-play gathering space” located on the former Ensign Bickford campus along Route 44. “It’s like pregnancy: pain for a purpose.”
The Carpionato Group marked the beginning of the project’s first of five phases, which will consist of five new retail buildings totaling about 119,000 square feet, anchored by a new 45,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market.
Phase I should be finished before Thanksgiving next year, and space will be filled by local merchants as well as regional and national businesses, Coates said, though he declined to name any potential tenants.
While the initial phase will only include retail space, phase II of the project will include office and residential units, the developer said. The whole project spans 97 acres and will include public spaces like a park and the newly redeveloped Farmington Valley Bikeway, the developer said. The $200 million estimate on the project is likely on the low side, Coates added.
Coates said he expects the entire project will be completed in five years.




 

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