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CT Construction Digest Tuesday December 10, 2019

Gov. Ned Lamont says Connecticut would win legal battle on truck-only tolls, wants vote next week

Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he believes Connecticut would be on solid legal ground and win any federal lawsuit regarding truck-only tolls and reiterated his preference that the General Assembly vote on the issue as soon as next week. A federal appeals court last week allowed a legal challenge of Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls to move forward, setting up a future decision on the merits of truckers’ claims that truck-only tolls are unconstitutional. Rhode Island is the first state in the nation to impose truck-only tolls, meaning there is no legal precedent or case law for guidance. Rick Pomp, a tax law professor at the UConn School of Law, said he believes Rhode Island could eventually succeed in its argument that imposing tolls only on trucks is legal. “The argument is this discriminates against interstate commerce,” Pomp said Monday. “But when you look at hotel taxes, rent-a-car taxes, taxes on oil in Alaska, taxes by Delaware on corporations and taxes by Nevada on gambling, they are all imposed on what can be viewed as interstate commerce. This is the bedrock of the American tax system.” William Dunlap, a constitutional law professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which covers Rhode Island, would not be enforceable in Connecticut, which is part of the Second Circuit. But “federal judges in Connecticut would take notice that a federal judge in Rhode Island ruled that way,” he said Monday. “They would look very carefully at what that court had done, but that would not be binding.”The recent ruling in the Rhode Island lawsuit simply keeps the case alive in federal court and does not predict the future, Dunlap said.
"It doesn’t tell us anything about the potential outcome,” he said.
Regarding whether tolls can be passed in special session before Christmas as part of a larger 10-year, $19.4 billion transportation plan, Lamont said, “Look, I think we can get it done from [December] 16th to the 19th. But if the leadership wants a little more time and have some more hearings, we’ll do it in January. But let’s get it done.”
Lamont and his administration maintain that they are highly confident that the state will eventually succeed in court if a similar lawsuit is filed here, based partly on advice from Rhode Island’s Democratic governor. “Gina Raimondo has told us ... they’re going to win that case,” Lamont told reporters outside the state Capitol. “Look, the truckers will put up every roadblock they possibly can. But we have a plan where they’re going to pay a little bit more to keep up our roads and bridges. ... I think this is something we’re going to get done.”On Monday, truckers said no tolls should be charged on the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford and the notorious Mixmaster at I-84 and Route 8 in Waterbury because those projects are already underway and have been paid by bond funds.“The state does not need toll revenue in order to do that work,” said Joe Sculley, the president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. “Bond funds are being used for that work. Tolls are only proposed for those locations because they are high traffic areas which are perfect for taking money from highway users, and spending the revenue on other purposes.”Sculley also rejected an often-cited statistic that trucks should pay more because one heavy truck can damage the roads as much as 9,600 cars.“That number has been thrown around for years by people looking to take money from the trucking industry in order to cover up for fiscal irresponsibility,” Sculley said, citing opposing research by the National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research board.“This is a plan to demonize and target an important industry in order to divert, pun intended, attention away from constant misuse of the Special Transportation Fund,” he added. “If enacted, this will ultimately end in cars being tolled as well, either because the revenue projections are inaccurate, the plan is unconstitutional, or both.”Despite objections by the truckers and some legislators, Lamont said he believes many questions have been answered about tolls."People know exactly how we’re going to pay for it,'' Lamont told reporters. “They known exactly what the rates would be on those trucks — big trucks and small trucks, in-state and out-of-state. They know it’s limited to one-time per gantry so the small delivery guys in Connecticut will not be disadvantaged that way. They know the list of projects that we can take care of and how that’s going to be done. ... We’re ready to go.”One of the biggest concerns among opponents is that truck-only tolls would eventually be expanded to all passenger cars. But Lamont said legal safeguards could be enacted under the repayment of the low-interest federal loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would help fund construction projects."If people are really nervous about that,” Lamont said, “as part of the bond covenant that we have with the feds, we can put in any protections people want.”

Lyme-Old Lyme schools plan more than $2 million artificial turf field
Mary Biekert
Old Lyme — The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education is moving forward with a plan to build a more than $2 million artificial turf athletic field, a project school officials say will conserve groundwater without placing a burden on taxpayers.
Superintendent Ian Neviaser said last week that the board has almost amassed enough money in the district's undesignated capital expense fund to build the field. For the past two decades, the district has typically funneled 1 percent of its annual budget into the fund to help finance larger projects and avoid budget increases or the need to bond, he said.
The fund balance is currently $1.7 million, but officials expect it to increase to more than $2.5 million by next year — enough to pay to install the field.
The funding numbers, as well as details such as the materials used to build the field and maintenance costs, were presented to the board at its meeting last week by Kevin Fuselier, of the Milone & MacBroom engineering and consulting firm. The presentation was one of the first of several upcoming public forums on the field.
The district hired Milone & Macbroom for $23,800 in October to begin designing the field. The board and the firm will now complete the design before seeking bids for the work.
Before that, the school board must obtain permits from the town, including from the inland wetlands and planning and zoning commissions. Construction could begin as early as the summer 2021, Fuselier said, and would take four months to complete.
The 143,000-square-foot, all-weather, multipurpose field would be located behind the middle and high schools on the so-called practice field and will accommodate soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball games and practices, as well as physical education classes.
Currently, the district plays games only on its track and soccer/lacrosse fields, both of which are irrigated.
Neviaser said that because those fields are used so frequently, more than 106,000 gallons of water is needed each week to keep them in good condition, though the district’s well can only provide up to about 100,000 gallons per week.
Neviaser reasoned that if practice and games could be diverted from those fields and onto the new turf field, the district would need less water to maintain its grass fields because they would see less wear and tear. Both fields see about 2,200 hours of use annually, while the practice field, which is not irrigated and dries out, now gets 1,260 hours annually.
Fuselier said the new turf field will cost an estimated $2.3 million. That price, however, does not include bleachers, lighting and other stadium upgrades, a shock-pad cushion or pricier infill material options. The district will decide over coming weeks whether it would like to spend more on higher-quality materials for the field instead of the less-expensive crumb rubber used in the initial estimate.
The $2.3 million figure also does not include the cost to replace the field in 10 to 15 years, as well as annual maintenance costs, estimated at between $10,000 and $20,000 a year. Presently, the district spends more than $11,000 annually to maintain the practice field that would be replaced by the turf field, and more than $73,000 annually to maintain all of its fields.
Fuselier explained that a synthetic turf field would offer a year-round playing surface and be available in almost any weather condition while also minimizing irrigation demands, helping preserve ground water.
In an effort to address its water shortages, the district has attempted a variety of solutions, purchasing water delivered via tanker trucks during the summers of 2015 and 2016, as well as drilling a new well on its property in the winter of 2017, which "helped a little bit," Neviaser said "but was still not sufficient enough to provide the water we needed."
Last summer, the district also began pumping water from a nearby beaver pond — part of which is owned by selectman Chris Kerr — but that, too, wasn’t a solution Neviaser said, because of limitations on what the district can pull from the pond.
“The amount of water we are pulling from our well is continuing to decline over time, and unfortunately we are out of spots on this campus to re-drill wells,” Neviaser said.
Because of the turf field’s estimated costs, some residents have expressed concerns with the education board’s capital spending plans and have worried that the district has been unnecessarily saving for the turf field while putting off other school projects.
In response to board member Suzanne Thompson’s concerns Wednesday, board member Rick Goulding said the board has always prioritized the field after its facilities. He said the field issue was only pushed forward when irrigation became a larger problem.
“We realized our fields are wholly inadequate for the programs that we have running right now,” Goulding said, before explaining that the capital savings fund is designed specifically for such larger projects and are useful for avoiding big fluctuations in the annual budget.
“Our undesignated fund is to make sure that our capital projects — building, fields, etc.—don’t put bubbles into our annual budgets,” Goulding said. “If we had used that money in other ways, we would have had to add this (turf field project) into our bonding project.”
Goulding explained that a $430,000 project to replacing gym flooring and an HVAC system at the Lyme Consolidated School is still moving forward and is being planned into next fiscal year’s budget. He also explained that a larger elementary school renovations project, estimated to cost about $15 million and planned to begin in 2023, is still moving forward.

As CT begins next round of $50M apprenticeship program, some say funding is woefully inadequate to fill manufacturing jobs pipeline
Sean Teehan
Connecticut’s manufacturing sector is facing a historic workforce shortage that could get worse before it gets better, as aging Baby Boomers head toward retirement leaving thousands — or even tens of thousands — of open jobs for younger generations that have so far largely overlooked the industry.
In response, Connecticut last year embarked on a new $50-million initiative to train and certify as many as 10,000 eligible residents to fill job shortages mainly in manufacturing, but also health care and construction.
The Apprenticeship Connecticut initiative, a grant program overseen by the state Department of Labor, is now in its second year with $10 million recently allocated to help fund skills-training programs developed by regional workforce-development boards.
But some involved in workforce development and manufacturing say there’s a key problem with Apprenticeship Connecticut: the funding available doesn’t come close to the size and scale of the problem it endeavors to solve. While the initiative is good, and seems to be approaching the right problems the right way, it’s just one piece of a larger workforce-development puzzle that still has stakeholders scratching their heads.
“It’s not enough money, to put it in really simple English,” said Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), who has been involved in state workforce-development efforts in the past. “We’ve got 150,000 — give or take — manufacturing jobs, 5 to 10 percent of workers are retiring every year, and we’re producing 1 to 2 percent [as replacements]. Not to knock [Apprenticeship Connecticut], but $5 million to $10 million doesn’t cut it.”
Program proponents admit it’s not a panacea for the industry’s workforce woes, but it can be part of the solution. Workforce development has become a main focus for Gov. Ned Lamont, who recently named two dozen business, nonprofit education and union leaders to a revamped workforce council that will study and recommend new workforce-development strategies.
He also named a new chief manufacturing officer — Colin Cooper — who will be focused on policies that help train the next generation of workers.
That’s on top of the $5 million doled out for the program last year.For now, one of the key efforts underway is Apprenticeship Connecticut, which State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), who sponsored the bill that funded program, said has the potential to revamp manufacturing here.
“I believe that Connecticut has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get young people into what I would consider a basic job in Connecticut servicing over 400 manufacturers, and in particular our defense industry,” Osten said.
Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said about 1,000 companies are currently enrolled in the state’s formal apprenticeship program, employing about 6,000 apprentices, mainly in construction. There is now a greater focus on manufacturing.
Success stories
So far, Apprenticeship Connecticut has helped fund several job-training and placement efforts across the state.
For example, the Northwest Regional Workforce Board, which has been awarded $1.25 million over four years through the program, has placed six people in official apprenticeships, and about 20 more in non-apprenticeship training programs. That’s in addition to work it’s doing with local school districts, community colleges and manufacturers to create a more robust training-to-employment channel, said Executive Director Cathy Awwad.
At the same time, Workforce Alliance, New Haven’s regional workforce-development board, received $3.5 million to fund its Skill Up program, a five-week manufacturing pre-apprenticeship initiative, said Ann Harrison, the group’s communications director. The program’s curriculum was written in partnership with local manufacturers that provide input on the skills they need from entry-level and apprenticeship hires, and is taught by professors at Gateway and Middlesex community colleges.
Skill Up, which has trained about 100 people and placed about 50 in manufacturing jobs, is modeled after the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board’s (EWIB) four-year-old Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, which is considered an industry gold standard. EWIB received $3.5 million in Apprenticeship Connecticut funds during the initiative’s first year.
That program is anchored by the hiring needs of Groton submarine maker Electric Boat, which must add hundreds of workers to meet its obligations under massive federal submarine contracts.
Electric Boat has worked in coordination with EWIB and a network of 70 area manufacturers, colleges and high schools, to develop employer-driven curriculum and standards that provide high odds of trainees landing jobs afterward, said John Beauregard, the board’s president.
As of 2019’s third quarter, more than 1,500 trainees from the program have been placed in manufacturing jobs at about 260 workplaces, Beauregard said. About 80 percent of those placed had no prior manufacturing experience before the pipeline program.
It’s been a hit with employers, too.
Wallingford precision-manufacturer Hobson & Motzer, which has been upping its efforts to find qualified workers, has hired about eight people from the program.
“They bring talent that is better than what we would get off the street,” said Asi Carmeli, Hobson & Motzer‘s director of human resources.
Hobson & Motzer, which makes precision metal components for several industries, including medical and aerospace, employs about 350 people and currently has five open positions.
“There’s a shortage of talent, and people out there either unemployed or underemployed are not looking at manufacturing as a viable option,” Carmeli said.
More funding needed?
Eric Brown, vice president of manufacturing at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, the state’s largest business lobby, said workforce-development programs and apprenticeships are certainly part of the solution to the manufacturing industry’s woes, but they’re not a cure-all.
That’s because manufacturing jobs run the gamut from welding, a skill that can be learned in a relatively short time, to advanced manufacturing, which generally requires advanced training and degrees.
In the long run, Brown said, the focus has to be on introducing manufacturing in high schools and even middle schools so students can get interested and begin training before graduating. Additionally, Brown said advances in technology could reduce the number of workers manufacturers need, which could make many of the skills taught in pre-apprenticeship programs obsolete.
“Companies are saying we need more people, but they’re looking into how they can become more efficient,” Brown said. “Maybe if they invest in technology they don’t need five new people, they need three new people.”
Westby, the state labor commissioner, said workforce boards partnering with companies that agree to hire out of pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship programs, fills an important need. The basic manufacturing training courses are often enough for people to learn entry-level skills, and expanding manufacturing programs in high schools and community and state colleges can foster a more advanced set of prospective employees, but apprenticeships bridge the gap between entry-level workers and trained mid-level employees.
“There’s a medium-term need,” Westby said. “This is about building, expanding the workforce of skilled workers filling these job needs.”
Wray, of CRCOG, said the multi-pronged workforce-development approach is a good one, but he suggested Connecticut invest as much as $60 million annually to truly attack the need.
“[Right now] you have a relatively small amount of money chasing tens of thousands of vacancies,” Wray said.
And more money could become available based on Apprenticeship Connecticut’s success.
“We could probably put in another $100 million, but we would need the people willing to apply [for the programs],” Osten said. “Once we spend that $50 million, I think we should have the next dollar amount [ready].”

After three decades, hotel will fill last piece of Somerset Square’s development puzzle
Sean Teehan
A chic new four-story, 131-room Glastonbury hotel set to open in 2021 will add lodging options to a town that plays host to many business travelers.
More importantly, the AC Hotel by Marriott at 75 Glastonbury Blvd., will fill the last vacant space in Somerset Square, a popular and successful mixed-use development built in the mid-1980s that also includes a shopping center, office space, Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and Homewood Suites Hotel.
Somerset Square is Glastonbury’s second-largest taxpayer, according to the town’s grand list.“It pretty much completes the area,” said Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson. “It’s the last vacant parcel in Somerset Square. The hotel rooms will help support our local business travelers.”
The hotel will also include a 25,000-square-foot function hall for events.
The two hotels currently located in Somerset Square are the only ones in town, and are consistently booked to capacity, especially during the week, said Ned Carney, vice president of Bridgewater, Mass.-based The Claremont Co. Inc., which is developing and will manage the Marriott property.
That’s likely because the Hilton and Homewood Suites (which Claremont also owns) are just about 12 miles down Route 2 from Hartford, an area of Glastonbury attractive to out-of-towners visiting for business, Carney said.
“I think a lot of the weekday [hotel] business is the business traveler who probably is conducting business in the Hartford market, but likes staying in Glastonbury for the walkability and upscale restaurants there,” Carney said.
AC Hotels, which has operated as a subsidiary of Marriott International since 2011, differs from Marriott’s more traditional hotels mostly in presentation and amenities. The rooms feature sleek European-inspired furniture, art and hardwood floors, and the kitchen and bar offer upscale snacks like imported hand-cut prosciutto, signature cocktails and tapas, according to AC Hotels promotional materials.
While the hotel site has remained vacant for decades, it wasn’t ignored by the town, Johnson said. Before the AC Hotel proposal, Glastonbury approved Claremont’s plans to build apartments there in 2017, about a year after the company bought the 2.88-acre site for $3 million. That project never materialized, nor did a proposal to develop an assisted-living facility.
But the addition of the hotel in an area with low vacancies, should bring into town more travelers who will spend money at local restaurants and shops, Johnson said. The new building will compliment wide-scale renovations of nearby commercial buildings over the past six years.
“We have new construction, renovations and buildings that are outdated and being replaced by new buildings throughout our community,” Johnson said. “From 2013 to the present, renovations and new construction in Glastonbury totals over a million square feet.”
Investor interest
The new hotel comes at a time when the Somerset Square development has garnered significant interest from investors in recent years.
The two office buildings at 180 and 200 Glastonbury Blvd., together span over 184,871 square feet.
Both buildings house numerous tenants in the insurance, financial technology, accounting and wealth management sectors, including Wells Fargo Advisors, RBC Wealth Management and Washington Trust Co-Westerly.
In Oct. 2016, Manhattan-based Rouse Properties paid $42 million for The Shops at Somerset Square, the 115,000-square-foot lifestyle shopping center at 140 Glastonbury Blvd.
Somerset Square’s retail lineup includes: Max Fish, Lux Bond & Green, Francesca’s, Victoria’s Secret, White House Black Market, Chico’s, Talbots, Chipotle and Starbucks.

State wind award fills Bridgeport’s sails
The Day Editorial Board             
It is hard not to get that feeling that New London has been left at the altar again.
We understand that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in assessing bids for offshore wind power generation is supposed to look only at energy costs and economic development prospects, not geographical distribution of the prized awards.
Still, it’s disappointing.
Because that evaluation led to the decision to give Vineyard Wind the right to negotiate with electric distribution companies to sell them 804 megawatts of electricity coming from the offshore wind turbines it will now build. That’s great news for Bridgeport. Its port will be transformed as the Park City Wind Project for staging of the windfarm development.
The project includes an estimated $890 million in direct economic investment, focused on western Connecticut.
We had been urging DEEP to also give a substantial award to Revolution Wind, a joint venture of Eversource and Orsted, which plans to use State Pier in New London for its offshore wind development hub. It didn’t happen.
Revolution Wind was awarded a 304 MW offshore wind bid in 2018. Noting its disappointment Thursday, Revolution Wind stated its intention to still invest in State Pier to develop the infrastructure necessary to support construction tied to that 2018 award and its projects serving other states. Negotiations for a $93 million public-private partnership to redevelop the pier continue with the Connecticut Port Authority.
But a big award Thursday would have boosted the economic benefits flowing to the New London area. And, frankly, despite the assurances, we’re now nervous about the planned development actually happening. It remains a priority for our local elected and state legislative officials to make sure it does.

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