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CT Construction Digest Monday December 30, 2019

Faster rail service a priority for new CT transportation chief: Getting There
Jim Cameron
Joseph Giulietti is finishing his first year as commissioner of the state Department of Transportation. He’s been busy and less visible in recent months, so imagine my surprise when he offered me a one-on-one, no-holds-barred interview.
“You’ve always been fair, Jim. You’ve hit me hard, but you’ve always been fair,” the commissioner said.
That’s music to my ears, and I hope he feels the same way after reading this column.
Our conversation covered every aspect of the state DOT’s operations from Metro-North to CT2030 to tolls, which we’ll discuss in next week’s column. Here are some highlights.
I reminded the commissioner that before he joined the state DOT, he authored the infamous “30-30-30” report as a consultant to the Business Council of Fairfield County, arguing it was possible to speed up trains to be able to go between Grand Central Terminal, Stamford, New Haven and Hartford in 30 minutes per leg. Any regrets at such a promise?
Giulietti said such speeds are still possible — in a few years. He wants to increase train speeds, redo some bridges to avoid slowing down and save “five minutes here and 10 minutes there.” He also held out hope for faster service on Metro-North trains to Penn Station (after the Long Island Railroad’s East Side Access project is finished going into GCT).
“We’ve got cellphone data from the feds showing that 40 percent of riders to Grand Central continue south to Wall Street, but 20 percent go west toward Penn Station,” he added. He also held out hope for limited, rush-hour nonstop express service from New Haven and Stamford to GCT.
As for new rail cars, the additional 66 M8 cars that were to be delivered this year “are running a bit late,” but he called the M8s a tremendous success. Those M8 cars were supposed to also run on Shore Line East, but even with 405 M8s, the state DOT doesn’t have enough of them even for the mainline given increased ridership.
The commissioner said he’s still looking at diesel, push-pull double-decker cars where a 10-car train could carry almost 2,000 passengers.
But he says electrification of the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines just isn’t in the cards due to the cost.
As for fares: He couldn’t say if they’d go up because he doesn’t know how much money will be in the Special Transportation Fund. But he did pledge cost savings in his department, calling possible rail service cuts “the worst of all worlds.”
While the Walk Bridge project in Norwalk is running late and over-budget, he blamed litigation and said he has firm funding commitments from Amtrak on that bridge and the one over the Connecticut River.
But will the state DOT have enough talented engineers after 2022 when 40 percent of the department’s most experienced staffers will be up for retirement? The commissioner said succession planning is a huge priority for him. He’s even grooming replacements for his own job.
But among the rank-and-file, it’s hard to keep talent.
“I can’t hold onto someone with a CDL (Commercial Drivers License),” he said, “Some of the towns are paying more (than the state DOT).”
With a special session of the legislature coming up in January to consider tolls, there’s a lot hanging in the balance. What does Giulietti think of his boss — Gov. Ned Lamont — and Patrick Sasser’s “No Tolls CT” movement?
Those frank comments next week in the second part of our conversation.

Hartford’s State Office Building: Where history meets modern workspace in $205M makeover

As hundreds of state workers move into the renovated State Office Building in Hartford, they are relocating into an edifice with a stately, even monumental, 1930s exterior but with workspaces now outfitted for the 2020s and beyond.Inside, the six-story structure at 165 Capitol Ave. has open floor plans, a mechanized “sit-and-stand” desk for each employee and sleek break rooms with stainless steel appliances and pendant lighting.“For me, having worked in this building, it’s a much smarter use of space,” Carol O’Shea, facilities planning manager for the state, said during a recent tour. “It was a rabbit warren. It was offices within offices within offices.”Notably, the 750 air conditioners that once jutted out from almost every possible window are now gone, replaced by a centralized cooling system.State employees started relocating just after Thanksgiving, and by the end of January, the building will become the workplace for about 700. The renovated space will primarily be the domain of the state’s constitutional officers, including the attorney general, comptroller, treasurer and secretary of the state. The structure also will house the state auditors and later this year, the teachers’ retirement board. The majority are moving from leased space at nearby 55 Elm St., built in the same era as the State Office Building. The structure, on Pulaski Circle, is now under contract to be sold for possible conversion to apartments or other uses.
The state faces a deadline of March 31 to move all personnel and equipment out of 55 Elm St. or be hit with a higher month-to-month lease.
The State Office Building renovation is part of a larger plan to consolidate state workers into buildings the state owns to save on leasing costs. At 55 Elm St., the lease cost $6 million a year. The makeover of the State Office Building was controversial for its $205 million price tag, including a $34 million, 1,007-space parking garage on nearby Buckingham Street.Anthony J. Amenta, principal of Amenta Emma Architects, the architectural firm hired for the project, said demolishing the building would have been difficult because it stands in the Elm Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. “Even with replacing everything, it’s still much less expensive than building a building of the same size, regardless of what we have done here,” Amenta said, on the tour.  So far, the project has come under budget by about $3 million, officials said. The project also is seen as a catalyst to the redevelopment of the expanse of parking lots that stretch east of the State Office Building. Amenta said the renovation balances historical restoration of the building’s neoclassical Indiana limestone exterior and historic elements on the first floor with modernized workspaces designed with exposed duct work, brick and beams. In office areas, gone are the heavy oak moldings, cast-iron radiators and a layout — offices opening off narrow corridors — popular when the building was constructed 90 years ago.They have been replaced by open banks of workstations, which initially caused some concern.  O’Shea said the floors are equipped with noise-masking systems that can be turned up, sounding like a low hum of an HVAC system or traffic. “It’s funny, though, the people that we moved in yesterday, their manager said, ‘This is a noisy group of people. I don’t know how this is going to work,’” O’Shea said. “All of a sudden, they are whispering. There’s something called the ‘library effect.’ If you see people working, you tend to lower your voice.” Matt Larock, an assistant attorney general and department head for employment, said workspaces at 55 Elm St. were outdated, and the attorney general’s staff was scattered over several floors and in an annex. At 165 Capitol Ave., the staff is on just two floors. “The biggest thing is that the new building is very vibrant and modern,” Larock said. “It just opens the door for a more collegial setting, more openness, communication. All the folks are accessible to each other, there’s more camaraderie.”Each of the constitutional officers is getting an office in the northwest corner of building with a view of the state Capitol. Their offices include a bathroom, a closet and conference table and monitor. Attorney General William Tong snags the top floor; Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the third; Treasurer Shawn Wooden, the second; and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the first floor. Merrill was placed on the first floor because her office is most often accessed by the public, O’Shea said. The main entrance to the building has been shifted from the north to the east, and is marked by a two-story glass foyer with a footbridge traversing the space. “When you add to a building that’s on the historic register, they don’t want the addition to mimic in any way the historic structure,” Amenta said. “So the more contemporary you can make it, the better.” The entrance will border a park nearly the size of a football field, running between Capitol Avenue and Buckingham Street. Sycamore hybrid trees already have been planted, and landscaping is expected to be completed in the spring. The two interior courtyards have been raised 6 feet, allowing a new cafeteria and the front lobby to open directly on them. The courtyard walls — once heavily stained with rust — have been covered with alternating panels of black and white terra cotta.The building’s historic designation demanded the renovation preserve critical architectural elements. Many of the steel casement windows with cast iron mullions were beyond repair, but a compromise was struck to replace them with exact — but more energy efficient — replicas rendered by the original manufacturer. The historic first floor hall with marble colonnade has been restored. Paint was removed from sandstone walls. A decorative ceiling was replaced in the same style after asbestos was discovered. And worn treads on limestone staircases leading up into the building were either resurfaced or replaced. The tour wraps up on the secretary of the state’s floor. Painters are spraying the ceiling and walls.“Don’t lean on anything,” O’Shea cautions. “The paint might still be wet.”

Regional Waterbury, Naugatuck development agency to launch next month
WATERBURY — A new regional development agency pairing Waterbury, Naugatuck and, potentially other communities will launch around the end of January, according to Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary.
The long-stalled plan would build a new agency on the backbone of the Naugatuck Valley Development Corp., Waterbury’s former development agency.
Waterbury aldermen signed off on the plan in May. Naugatuck officials agreed in August.
Michael O’Connor, volunteer CEO of the NVDC, begged off on making the transition. First, he wanted to conclude a slow-moving negotiation with a tenant for the vacant Timexpo Building.
That tentative lease – first announced in November 2018 – has taken far longer than expected to conclude. On Saturday, O’Connor said he’s done waiting and will call for a meeting of the NVDC board in late January to adopt new bylaws, a new mission and a new board.
O’Connor had hoped to conclude a decade-long lease agreement for Timexpo with the current NVDC board, which is familiar with the building and the proposal. But it no longer makes sense to wait, he said.
O’Leary also said his patience is starting to wear thin and he wants to put the new agency to work shortly after the end of January, if not sooner.
O’Connor, on Saturday, declined to name the prospective tenant, outline the reasons for the long negotiation or predict when negotiations might conclude. It is common practice for municipalities to keep real estate negotiations privileged.
The new agency will handle projects of regional importance, such as an ongoing joint effort between Waterbury and Naugatuck to develop a roughly 160-acre property located in both communities.
In 2005, the city dropped the NVDC as its development arm and launched the Waterbury Development Corp.
Rather than handing over its assets and dissolving, the NVDC carried on as a very quiet nonprofit. It invested its cash reserves and collected rent on the Timexpo building, a three-story building at the Brass Mill Commons that had once served as offices for Scovill Manufacturing.
In recent years, the NVDC spent just over $1 million to support city development and planning initiatives, as well as various area nonprofits.
The plan is to use the agency’s remaining cash accounts and whatever proceeds come from a Timexpo rental to support the new regional development mission.

Waterbury to seek developers for 160-acre parcel
WATERBURY — Sometime within the next two months, the city will officially begin seeking developers for a roughly 160-acre parcel straddling its border with Naugatuck.
Mackenzie Demac, chief of staff to Mayor Neil M. O’Leary, said the city will release a request-for-proposal within 60 days.
In their responses, developers will be asked to outline not just how much they’re willing to pay for the property, but also how they’ll develop it.
City officials are looking for job creation and future taxes. Ideally, they’re looking for a single structure of up to near 1 million square feet. They’ve also drafted up a concept in which the property could be split among several industrial or commercial buildings.
Even without an advertisement, three would-be developers have walked the property in company of Waterbury Economic Director Joseph McGrath.
Two were simply looking for large building sites, and were informed of the potential by McGrath. A third asked to see the site specifically, McGrath said.
“The general reaction is it is developable and it’s fairly level at points,” McGrath said.
The visitors asked about the soil compression, and so the city paid a contractor to perform borings and draft up a geotechnical report, now viewable on the site of the Waterbury Development Corp.
A series of mayoral administrations had floated one idea after another for the site: a dog track, a casino, a mall.
These all fell flat, partially due to the extreme difficulty getting into the property due to steep slopes on the Waterbury side by South Main Street.
O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess struck a deal to jointly develop the property, accessing it through a Naugatuck industrial park.
Waterbury owns the land on either side of the border. It will get any sales revenue. The municipalities agreed to evenly split future tax revenues.
The Connecticut State Bond Commission, in June 2018, agreed to grant $2.8 million in economic development funds to push a road and utilities into the property. That work will happen after a developer is picked, so as to tailor infrastructure to a specific user.
McGrath said the responses to the RFP will show if there is significant interest in the property.

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