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CT Construction Digest Tuesday December 17, 2019

Busy cargo day at State Pier

Sean D. Elliot 
The Panamanian-registered bulk hauler Tai Honesty unloads road salt, while the Antigua Barbuda-flagged cargo ship BBC Eagle unloads manufactured steel at State Pier in New London Monday, December 16, 2019.
DRVN Enterprises, which imports the road salt, has a contract to bring salt to the pair through this winter. Skanska Trevcon II JV, a contractor hired by General Dynamics Electric Boat to manage the delivery of cargo being used in the construction of a new building where the ballistic missile submarines is getting under way, is working with Gateway, the port management company, to use the pier for the staging of construction materials.
The pier will be closed to cargo this spring when construction of the pier to accommodate wind power projects is expected to get under way.    

Wilton selectmen to choose cost option for police station
Jeannette Ross
WILTON — What’s the most over $12 million the town will be willing to pay for an upgraded police station?
That is the question Wilton’s selectmen will try to answer when they review options — and their accompanying costs — at tonight’s board meeting. They are expected to select one for further development at the meeting scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in town hall’s Room B.
The Police-Town Hall Building Committee reviewed several options at its meeting on Dec. 12, and chose four options that range in price from approximately $12 million for a 6,000-square-foot addition to the present 11,000-square-foot police station, to $22 million for a new 20,000-square-foot building that would include repairs to town hall, finishing Comstock Community Center and demolishing the town hall annex.In between, are two options that cost the same: an 8,500-square-foot addition to the police station, for a total of 19,500 square feet and a new 20,000-square-foot police station, with no additional work on the town hall campus. The committee is expected to point out to the selectmen that these options are not equivalent in that the new construction’s design would serve the police department better than a renovation.
Colliers, the town’s owners’ rep which supplied the numbers, used $500 to $550 per square foot to figure approximate costs but exact numbers were not made available as of Monday morning, Dec. 16.
In May 2017 voters approved $1.2 million to pay for surveys, studies, and services, such as those being provided by Colliers and Tecton Architects. That was 10 percent of a $12-million construction budget originally floated in 2013, but that number did not include soft costs such as insurance, hazardous material abatement, and contingency costs.
Colliers told the building committee last week that with construction costs increasing six percent a year — a number challenged by several committee members — that $12 million had increased substantially and was no longer a realistic figure. Although one of the options to be presented to the selectmen is for $12 million, the committee concluded it would add so little to the current police station it would not be worth doing.
The task of the selectmen will be to pick an option with a budget that voters will pass at next May’s Annual Town Meeting.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said when she and facilities director Chris Burney first began discussing this in 2016 there was an air of optimism that has since dissipated.
At that time the Wilton Wellness building was being built. “Guess what, it’s half-full,” Vanderslice said. “The high-paying jobs are gone. Home prices have decreased and continue to decrease. The tax law changed. So people’s appetites have changed. We just had an election. The people who said they were going to focus on reducing costs got the highest number of votes. That kind of says where we are.”
“Brightview pulled out. … The annual taxes on that was going to pay for the first eleven and a half million dollars of this project. So now we have to go find that financing,” she added.
Pushing the project off a few years was discussed, but that brings with it continually escalating construction costs and deferred maintenance expense to buildings that are not in the best of condition. Vanderslice was emphatic that work on the police station could not wait.
There was also discussion about doing the project in pieces a few years apart, but that was also dismissed.
“You’ve got one shot at this,” committee co-chair David Waters said. “You’re not going to be able to get the town to pay for part of this now and then five years from now they’re going to pay something more.”
Vanderslice said the town’s debt service also needs to be considered. “We are at the highest level of debt we’ve ever been that I can go back and find, so to add $22 million onto that, this is a difficult time to do that.”
What people will be most concerned about, she said, is how the mill rate will be affected by whatever option is chosen. At $18 million, she said, in the first year there will be a 1 1/2-percent increase in the mill rate just for debt service and then the next year there’s a 1-percent increase just for debt service.“On top of the 1 1/2 percent the first year you’ve got an increase because you’ve got an increase in Board of Ed spending and a Board of Selectmen increase in spending and the same thing for the next year,” Vanderslice said. She could not be precise but said Wilton’s current debt service is over $80 million.
School enrollment factor
Colliers asked if there was a benefit to doing some of the smaller projects such as finishing Comstock and demolishing the town hall annex to eliminate deferred maintenance and open up the site to make future construction logistics easier that would actually reduce future construction costs.
Vanderslice could not say at the meeting if there would be a sizable enough reduction in debit service over the next five years to make the project more doable. She went on to say of the three buildings — town hall, annex and police station — the police station has the most urgent needs.
In addition, she said, the needs of administrative employees will go down due to regionalization of certain services. That brought up a recent report to the Board of Education that school enrollment will further decline from 2010 to 2027 by 785 students. “That is an entire school and we’re not that far away from 2027,” she said.
“Suddenly maybe I don’t have to renovate this space,” she said referring to Comstock. “Because maybe a separate entrance in a school, I can work in a classroom. The whole finance department can go work in a classroom. If we’re going to have the equivalent of one of our schools empty … we are going to have excess.”
She added that putting police in a school is not an option.
The committee’s next meeting is planned for Wednesday, Jan. 8, at which time Tecton will present elevations and facades.

Panel discusses future of Cheshire school buildings
Michael Gagne
CHESHIRE — What was intended to be a brief overview of investments made into the town's existing public school buildings over the years Monday night turned into a much larger discussion about how the buildings are currently being used and the financial impact of school modernization.
The School Modernization Committee, convening for the second time since it was formed earlier this fall, is tasked with developing a plan for modernizing the town's school buildings.
The committee’s deadline to present that plan to the Town Council and Board of Education is Sept. 15, 2020.
On Monday, the committee did not take any votes, but floated the possibility of hiring a consultant to guide the group through the process of developing a plan.
School officials provided the committee with a timeline of the recent investments made to improve school buildings. Another overview showed recent student figures and projections for future enrollment.
The Cheshire Public Schools currently has more than 4,200 students enrolled in grades Kindergarten through 12.
That number is down from 5,174 students during the 2006-2007 school year. Different enrollment projections conducted in 2016 had forecast either a possible increase in enrollment over a ten year period or a decline. One projection showed enrollment declining to 3,643 by the 2025-2026 school year. Another had enrollment increasing to 4,477.
An updated projection shows the district's enrollment is on pace for a more slight increase — to 4,283 students.
Humiston School, the oldest building, houses the district's central office and alternative high school program. The building was constructed in 1912. Meanwhile, the town's newest building, Highland Elementary School, was completed in 1971.
The town has made investments to improve its school buildings. Voters this past November approved projects that include boiler replacements in several elementary school buildings and window replacements at Cheshire High School.
Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana and Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Solan discussed that background, noting that many of the previous capital projects were carried out to bring school buildings into compliance with building and accessibility codes, to make security improvements and to repair crumbling infrastructure.
The town's current reimbursement, via the state's School Construction Grant program, for new school construction is 36.43%. The current reimbursement for renovations is 46.43%.
The deadline to get on the priority list of school construction projects for the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the grant, is June 30, 2020.
Solan called that timeline “pretty aggressive,” if the committee were to develop a plan to be considered among the next cohort of projects.
Town Council Vice Chairman Paul Bowman suggested the committee needs to know the Board of Education's vision for education in the future before it makes a final recommendation regarding building upgrades, closures or new construction.
“We have to design around that vision.... What Cheshire needs to have,” Bowman said.
Town Council chairman Rob Oris Jr. agreed the committee needs to look at what's best for students' education, but cautioned the plan the committee ends up presenting to the town has to be affordable.
“We have to do what's best for these schools. But it has to be based in fiscal reality. If we cannot marry the two, this project will be dead upon arrival,” Oris said, referencing the previous proposal for a new middle school building that Cheshire voters had rejected two years ago.

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