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CT Construction Digest February 14, 2020

Group seeking to sell Stamford school buildings has limited authority
Angela Carella                    
STAMFORD - The name, Stamford Asset Management Group, sounds like a private company more than a public entity.
It may contribute to the confusion surrounding SAMG’s role in a controversial plan to restore five aging public school buildings by selling them to a private developer for $1 apiece. Under the plan, the developer would rebuild the schools, then lease them back to the city.
Elected officials have been reluctant to relinquish public property and question the financial information provided by Director of Administration Michael Handler, who heads SAMG. Handler said a private company can build and maintain schools for 70 percent less than the city.
Members of the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance and Planning Board asked Handler to break down the numbers for them, but Handler said he cannot because publicizing details would jeopardize negotiations with private developers who may be interested in the work.
During the board discussions of the last few months, elected officials asked about SAMG’s authority to sell public property to a private developer.
Rep. Nina Sherwood, D-8, wanted to know whether it must be decided by voters in a ballot referendum, since the city Charter mandates that for the sale of park land.
Rep. Megan Cottrell, D-4, wanted to know whether SAMG is usurping the authority of the Board of Education, which is empowered by state statute.
Director of Legal Affairs Kathryn Emmett said the questions about SAMG are understandable.
“It’s a new idea and people want to know it’s going to succeed,” Emmett said.
Confusion is built in because the handling of school buildings is based on a dichotomy.
“As dictated by the city Charter and code, and by statute, the city owns the buildings and the Board of Education manages them,” Emmett said. “Questions come up sometimes because capital projects fall under the city budget and operational expenses fall under the Board of Education budget.”
The task force of city and school officials scrambled to find somewhere to house students and staff. They leased part of a corporate building on Elmcroft Road and had it converted into school space.
After that it became apparent that leaky roofs, foundations, windows, walls and other problems had allowed mold to grow in more than half of the city’s 21 school buildings, and in May the task force became SAMG, now overseeing millions of dollars in repairs.
Emmett described it as a “working group” created by Mayor David Martin and the Board of Education.
“The concept behind it is that there needs to be joint management of schools because the problem involves both sides of the house,” Emmett said. “Any decision about whether to do a public-private partnership has to be a joint decision.”
The group has grown in size and scope since it became SAMG. Besides Handler, it includes Superintendent Tamu Lucero; City Engineer Lou Casolo; two of the mayor’s special assistants, Cindy Grafstein and Josephine Carpanzano; and three facilities managers hired by SAMG - Kevin McCarthy, Andrew Glassman and John Perna.
SAMG gets its authority from the city and the school board, Emmett said.
“It operates under both,” she said. “It has no independent authority other than what it is designated to do by both bodies.”
Selling school property does not require a ballot referendum, Emmett said.
“That applies only to park land,” she said. “There are requirements having to do with the purchase and sale of property that apply, and it is subject to board approvals.”
SAMG would not sell property; the city would, Emmett said.
Representatives have asked whether SAMG should include elected officials. It should not, Emmett said.
“It’s an administrative body,” she said. “They are city employees managing city business. They don’t make decisions such as those made by elected officials.”
Peter Yazbak, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he has not heard of a public-private partnership involving school buildings.
“We are a local-control state, so a lot of decisions are left to the local Board of Education,” Yazbak said.
Kosta Diamantis, director of the state Department of Administrative Services’ Office of School Construction Grants, said schools built under such a deal would not be eligible for state money.
“If there is a public-private partnership between the town and a developer, that is between them,” Diamantis said. “We would not be investing funds in it.”
The private developer would have to follow municipal building codes, which are governed by state codes, and meet the academic programming requirements of the state Department of Education, Diamantis said.
But the city would be free of state construction regulations for bidding and issuing requests for proposals to developers, he said.
“They are on their own to do whatever they wish,” Diamantis said.
Emmett said the state made a similar arrangement to create the downtown dormitories for the University of Connecticut’s Stamford branch.
“UConn leases the dorm,” Emmett said. “It was built by a private developer.”
In the Stamford deal, Toquam, Hart and Roxbury elementary schools, Cloonan middle, and Westhill high would be sold to a developer to rebuild. Toquam would move from Springdale to the South End. Roxbury would be combined into a K-8 campus with Cloonan on West North Street. Hart and Westhill would be rebuilt on their own sites.
The city would lease them from the developer then reclaim ownership after 45 to 90 years.
“The issue is that SAMG has determined that a number of school buildings are failing, and we don’t have the financial capital to build a bunch of them,” Emmett said. “They came forward with a plan. Whether the boards agree, we’ll have to see.”

Work to begin on $46 million rehab of Arrigoni Bridge, congested intersection in Middletown
Cassandra Day
MIDDLETOWN — The state Department of Transportation will begin construction later this month on two projects totaling $46 million centered on bridge rehabilitation and street improvements to the intersection that leads to the structure.
That will be broken down into separate projects: $3.25 million will be spent on adding four more lanes to the roadway that leads to the Arrigoni Bridge into Portland and also allows access to the downtown, and $43 million worth of bridge repairs.
Both projects are being overseen by Mohawk Northeast of Plantsville.
Fixes to the 72-year-old structure are expected to take close to two years, during which motorists will experience lane closures, speed restrictions and travel disruptions.
Construction will begin Feb. 27, according to the state Department of Transportation. Work will include upgrading deteriorating approach spans carrying Routes 17 and 66 in Middletown and Portland over the Connecticut River, as well as deck replacements.
It will also involve “superstructure steel upgrades and repairs, as well as substructure repairs to improve the overall structural capacity, reliability and integrity of the bridge,” the DOT said in a press release.
Repairs to the 72-year-old bridge are set to begin on or about Feb. 27. That will include a new protective fence system ranging in height from 8 to 12 feet on the approach and main spans. Construction will be completed in three stages to maintain traffic flow and provide the contractor with space to complete the project, according to the DOT.
St. John’s Square project manager and state DOT engineer Stephen Hall said that portion of the project will address two safety issues of concern to residents.
It will include the addition of two more right and left turn lanes at Hartford Avenue in front of St. John Churchto ease the congestion of motorists coming off Route 9 south and heading over the bridge into Portland.
It also will allow quicker access to Main Street moving toward downtown, he said.
The purpose is to enact safety measures and address operational deficiencies. Geometric improvements will be made at St. John’s Square that will improve pedestrian and vehicular safety, while the intersection of Grand Street and Rapallo Avenue will be reconfigured to remove conflicting turning movements, Hall said.
Work will also be underway soon at Washington and Main streets to reduce congestion and improve walker safety.
“The pedestrian crossing from O’Rourke’s Diner to St. John Church has been realigned to improve the visibility of the pedestrians to the drivers on St. John’s Square. Additionally, sidewalk bump-outs at St. John’s Square, and at the intersection of Washington Street and Main Street, will improve pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances and improving sight lines,” Hall said.
State officials are working with the city to schedule a public informational meeting prior to construction to alert people about what to expect, and offer possible impacts on their daily commute or routine, Hall said.
Meantime, the state will initiate a smaller project first — the closure of the Route 9 southbound exit at Miller and Bridge streets, by all public accounts a dangerous one. The design phase is now underway.“That way we can focus our efforts on getting that completed while we still go through the design and alternates for removal of the traffic lights (at three exits in Middletown), Hall said.
Residents will access the neighborhood at the end of Portland Street, which is barricaded presently and only used by pedestrians and emergency personnel, Hall said. That will provide better access downtown. “We wanted them done separately to get it done sooner. If we grouped them together, the closure of Miller Street would be contingent on that project.”
To avoid conflicts, and for both projects to proceed as efficiently as possible for motorists and residents, the two projects were combined, with one contractor performing the work.
Nearly 34,000 vehicles a day cross the Arrigoni Bridge. Reporter Jim Shay contributed to this story.

Magnet school is on schedule to open in 2022
SUSAN CORICA
BRISTOL - The work on transforming the old Memorial Boulevard School into the Memorial Boulevard Intradistrict Arts Magnet School continues, but mostly behind the scenes for the time being.
“Most of the work that’s happening there is confined to spaces and places that are not in public view, so people may be wondering what’s happening,” said Deputy Superintendent Michael Dietter in his monthly report to the Board of Education.
The complete design set is now on file with the Board of Education’s facilities office, said Dietter, who chairs the building committee for the project. “We have been doing forensic and site soil analysis, with digs throughout the property in order to understand what’s in the dirt before we begin to move it.”
“There has been mapping of the site and sewer drain lines,” he said. “We understand there’s some sediment because those lines haven’t been in use for a number of years, so we’ve been working with Bristol Water Department on a schedule to jet those lines, clean them out, and get the water and other stuff flowing the way it should.”
Dietter said Tim Callahan, the district’s project manager for the school, has been working with the architects Quisenberry Arcari and Malik LLC, as well as representatives from relevant state offices, to review the paperwork on the project.
“We understand that we’re up to date and everything has been submitted at the appropriate timelines,” Dietter said.
There is a U.S. Geological Survey monument on the property, he noted. “When you have a project of this scope that needs to be taken out while the construction is happening and then brought back. That process is rather lengthy so Mr. Callahan has been working with the contractor in order to secure the appropriate documentation process for that.”
Inside the building, the kitchen layout has been approved, he said. “We’ve made a final decision about the theater ceiling, it is going to be replaced with curved dry wall rather than acoustic sound clouds.”
“We do anticipate that in June the work will be moving forward rather quickly with the remediation of the site,” he said. “The timeline for us to move in, project completion, is looking at March of ‘22, with students being welcomed for the start of that school year. There’s no substantial changes to the timeline or with the budget, we’re still operating at a $63 million cost.”
In December, the City Council and Board of Finance approved an $8.1 million hike in the price of converting the old school to an arts magnet school, due to increases in construction costs for removing hazardous materials from the building and a state level policy change.
The total cost of the project is now $63 million, of which 60% will be paid by the state. The city’s share is now $25.3 million.
The city and Board of Education are collaborating on the project to transform the closed school into a arts magnet school for grades six through 12. The opening date is projected to be August of 2022.
Memorial Boulevard was the city’s high school when it opened in 1922. In 1967, it became a junior high school and then a middle school, until it closed at the end of the 2011-12 school year, as part of a major redistricting in which five aged schools were closed and two large new ones opened.

Newington eager to get rolling on road project
Erica Drzewiecki
NEWINGTON - The ultimate goal of a fully funded roadway project expected to take place later this year is to improve safety and quality of life in the area, according to town officials.
The state Department of Transportation is giving Newington $2 million to fix critical issues and facilitate multimodal transportation along a 1.6-mile stretch of road, town engineer Gary Fuerstenberg told a few dozen people who attended a recent public information meeting on the Complete Streets Project.
Plans are now 70 percent complete and the DOT is reviewing them before the town and engineering firm VHB iron out the final details and move ahead with construction late this summer or early in the fall.
“We expect to increase the quality of life throughout the whole town and increase property values,” Fuerstenberg said. “It will make for more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.”
Running along Maple Hill Avenue between its intersections with New Britain Avenue and Robbins Avenue, then turning right onto Robbins and ending at Main Street, this particular corridor is desperate for milling and overlay, along with drainage, sidewalk and curb improvements.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Fuerstenberg said, sharing 30-some conceptual drawings. “It’s become quite the maintenance problem for the town. Crews are out there sealing cracks almost monthly.”
Added bonuses include a bike lane and an auxiliary left turn lane on Robbins, made possible by the Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP) grant.
Several people who live along the main stretch or in surrounding neighborhoods have expressed concerns about safety, speed and traffic.
“It’s going to be harder to get out of our driveways,” said Leo Pizzoferrato, a homeowner on Robbins. “Especially during rush hour, because you’re taking the same volume and condensing it. Also, we will have to be looking out for cyclists that we didn’t before.”
The bike lane will run parallel to driving lanes on the perimeter of the street, 5 feet wide with a 2-foot buffer. Nearby New Britain and West Hartford already have active bicycle networks, with lanes that offer little to no buffer.
Newington’s concept allows extra room so cyclists and drivers alike can feel comfortable navigating the roadway together. Eventually the town could expand its bicycle network.
Additionally, officials hope that reducing the four-lane road to two lanes with a center auxiliary turning lane will encourage drivers to decrease their speed.
“I’m a big walker so I’m really concerned about the safety of crossing Robbins Avenue,” Jessica Vandeerfeen said. “I’m generally in favor of this plan.”
A significant component calls for extending Ridgeway Street across Robbins and the Maple Hill Green to meet Thompson Street and connect to Golf Street. The small section of Golf that currently intersects with Robbins would be closed off.
“We have looked at a number of different alignments and the benefit of moving that intersection 200 feet to the east is providing the safer left turn lanes,” Fuerstenberg explained.
His engineering team plans to conduct additional traffic studies, incorporating counts from Indian Hill Country Club’s active season to determine if the volume of vehicles would be manageable after these changes are implemented.
“I was receptive to the feedback we got and we’ve met with internal staff to review the comments,” added Fuerstenberg, who also presented the concept to the Town Council this week.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, the Capitol Region Council of Governments and the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission have each reviewed the plans and given their feedback, with no conflicts.
Plans are available in the town engineer’s office, 131 Cedar St.

Tribes: East Windsor casino a long way away
Eric Bedner
espite telling lawmakers repeatedly they would build their Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor in spite of ongoing litigation, tribal leaders said Tuesday the project still is years from being constructed.
Tribal leaders and representatives were admonished by some members of the
legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee during a sports gambling and casino expansion informational forum at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday.
Rep. Joseph Verrengia, D-West Hartford, the House chairman of the committee, repeatedly questioned tribal representatives about why the East Windsor facility hasn’t yet been built, despite the tribes knowing MGM was going to sue.
Verrengia added that about $25 million per year should be coming to the state from the Tribal Winds Casino.
“The state is losing out on this partnership in that regard,” he said. “We’re talking about allowing for another casino with partners who haven’t come through on the first one.”
The lengthy legal battle delaying the East Windsor casino has caused the project to be scaled back to reflect the saturated gambling market in the region, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, said.
“Now that we’re seeing some stabilization, we’re refining the plans slightly,” he said, adding that the Tribal Winds Casino is still set to cost between $200 million and $300 million, but not as close to $300 million as initially planned.
“At every stage, MMCT and the tribes have fought litigation successfully and we will continue to do so,” lawyer Aaron Bayer, partner at Wiggin and Dana, said. “The zoning litigation is at an end.”
Butler said there have been conversations with town officials in East Windsor, and the zoning issue should be set within three to five months.
“Then we should be good to go at that point, barring any other challenges to the zoning concerns,” Butler said. “Anticipating that we get planning and zoning cleared up in the next three to five months, we’re shoveling ground in the next three to five months.”
Regardless of when construction actually starts, he said, it still will be another 18 to 24 months before the facility opens.
Tribal representatives were unable to say Tuesday when construction would begin.
Butler added, however, that the tribes already have made a substantial investment in East Windsor and have no intention of walking away.
“We have $20 million into this,” he said. “No one’s more intent on resolving this than us.”
Sticking point for sports betting
“The tribe has been clear that sports gaming is casino gaming” and therefore falls under the exclusive agreements the tribes currently have with the state, Ray Pineault, regional president of Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, said.
Tribal leaders said that if the state doesn’t grant them exclusive rights to sports gambling, they would cut off their annual contribution of about $250 million from casino revenue, or sue, or both.
Tribal executives also expect further litigation from MGM if the state doesn’t allow open bidding for future casino expansion, which has been talked about in Bridgeport.
One way or another, the state is likely to face litigation with any new gambling laws.
Verrengia said that if the tribes continue to assert they hold exclusive rights to sports gambling, it would be difficult to get a sports betting bill passed through the legislature.
Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, argued that sports betting is more aligned with horse racing, which the tribes do not hold exclusive rights to, because gamblers are placing bets on events outside the walls of a casino.
“You guys should certainly have a piece of that pie, but I don’t think you should have exclusivity,” Vail told tribal representatives.
One comprehensive gambling bill being considered by lawmakers would allow the tribes to operate retail and online sports betting, create a Bridgeport casino operated by MMCT, and establish tribal “entertainment zones” in Hartford, New Haven, and another to-be-determined location.
The proposal calls for a minimum investment of $100 million in Bridgeport and extending alcohol sale hours to 4 a.m.
Because of the number of casinos in the Northeast and the success of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, tribal leaders say there is not enough demand to justify building another giant resort-style casino in the state.
“There’s no question that the Northeast has gotten saturated,” Anthony Casida, senior vice president of business development for Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, said, adding that MGM Springfield is under performing.
Bryan Hayes, vice president of analytics and slot operations at Foxwoods Resort Casino, estimated the state stands to gain more than $38 million over five years through sports betting, about $85 million over five years for internet gambling, and about $10.4 million over five years for expanding alcohol sale hours to 4 a.m.

New Haven residents to face traffic issues when Grand Avenue Bridge closes
Mary E. O’Leary
NEW HAVEN — Get ready for a bit of noise, Fair Haven Heights residents.
It will only be a for a few weeks and it’s part of details residents of Fair Haven Heights got in terms of what’s in store for them as the Grand Avenue Bridge undergoes a complete repair that will see it closed for about 19 months.
The contractor will get the order to proceed on March 1 to start the $22 million project that will completely replace the mechanical and electrical systems, as well as the approach spans, blast paint the center span, rehab the control house, install two new foundations on the land side, replace the bridge deck and repair the masonry substructure.
The work will extend the life of the historic turn bridge for 30 years, City Engineer Giovanni Zinn said, and if it were painted again in 20 years, that life span would be longer. Zinn was speaking at a meeting at Jepsen school.
The first thing the immediate neighbors will experience is the pile driving, starting in late March or early April, that is needed to temporarily support the bridge.
“That is probably the noisiest activity that will happen during the entire time of the construction,” Zinn said, and is expected to last three to four weeks.
After the piles are driven, the bridge closes, most likely in the second half of April. That starts the clock for the 610 calendar days that the contractor has to get the job completed, without penalties, between October and December 2021.
The bridge will be left in the open position, and as the Quinnipiac River is a federally navigable waterway, the western channel will always be open.
After the pilings are in place, the bridge then will be jacked up so workers can get to all the machinery underneath, which will be removed, fabricated and replaced.
To prevent the tragedy that happened in 1982, when a car drove off the Chapel Street Bridge and four young people drowned, Zinn said there will be a fence that goes across the road and concrete barriers will be placed there.
The space between the fence and the barriers will be a laydown area with a lot of equipment that will also serve to block anyone from driving onto it.
Zinn said the contractor “is very aware of the importance of this.”
On the issue of traffic, which was one of the issues uppermost in the minds of the crowd, Zinn said the official detour is over the Ferry Street Bridge.
To assist commuters, four of the traffic signals on the detour route will be re-timed. He said they will also be monitoring signals to the north all the way to Route 80.
The traffic detour goes down Quinnipiac Avenue to the traffic circle at Ferry Street where drivers can then proceed to Chapel Street to downtown or to the intersection with Grand Avenue.
Zinn said there are other routes drivers can take, including the Tomlinson Bridge or north to Route 80 to get on Interstate 91.
One resident said the traffic circle will be a choke point as there is no signal there. “It is a kind of a free-for-all,” he said. Zinn said roundabouts are actually smoother for the flow of traffic as there is constant movement as opposed to lining up at a signal.
Another resident wanted to have a police officer at peak times at the important sections directing traffic. Zinn said there will be people monitoring this in the first few weeks.
On a related issue, Zinn updated the residents on a one-day closure for the Ferry Street Bridge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 25.
He said the city commissioned engineers to do an inspection and they found the mechanism that locks the two leaves of the bridge together was not perfectly aligned. He said it was not an issue, but he decided to take care of it now, rather than letting it become a problem when the Grand Avenue Bridge will be out of service.
Further out, Zinn said they are talking with the state to put off repairs to the other Ferry Street Bridge over the Amtrak line that connects State Street to Ferry Street so as to not have any conflicts as the Grand Avenue Bridge work continues, even though the state project is on the other side of Fair Haven.“Separately, that project is going to be a traffic nightmare in its own right, possibly even worse than this one,” Zinn said.
Color choices
On another point, to mitigate the pain of the bridge closing, the city plans a celebration on March 6 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Economic Development Officer Carlos Eyzeguirre told the crowd.
They will be celebrating the history of the bridge and the history of Fair Haven residents and businesses. There will be food trucks and entertainment with local musicians and wine tasting at Grand Vin, which will be seriously impacted by the bridge closure.
Zinn said the city arranged for extra parking spaces in front of Grand Vin to help that businessThe last thing discussed was ranked choice voting on the color of the bridge, a process that will start on March 6 with six colors. Black is not among them because of thermal problems. Zinn said the bridge has not always been black.
“This is an opportunity for all of you — the current generation of Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights — to put a little bit of your stamp on the bridge and really make a choice about the aesthetics of the neighborhood,” Zinn said. He said if it went well, the city might do it with other projects.There will be in-person balloting from March 6 to April 1 with the locations to be announced. “It is a way for the neighborhood to come together and vote,” Zinn said of the decision to not have online voting.
The truss will be painted one color, while the rail can be a different color. “No tie-dyed bridges, that would cost extra,” Zinn said.
The city engineer also said someone someone asked about starting a water taxi, but that isn’t in the budget.
To keep up with the news on the bridge, residents were encouraged to sign up for the bi-weekly updates at zshapiro@newhavenct.gov. There will be another meeting in June to see how things are going.

 

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