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CT Constuction Digest Tueaday February 11, 2020

 Pier remake could cost state three times $93 million estimate
David Collins
Tuesday morning, Gov. Lamont plans what I would have to call the most egregious overreach of executive power and assault on open public governing I've ever seen. And I'm old.
It's hard to know exactly what will unfold at a special meeting today of the board of Lamont's stepchild, the corrupt and dysfunctional Connecticut Port Authority, because the governor, incredibly, won't disclose the deals he plans for them to vote on.
An agenda for the meeting posted late Friday afternoon suggests the board will vote on the still-secret deal to rebuild State Pier as a wind turbine assembly facility mostly closed to routine marine cargo, its historic purpose.
One of the few things we do know about the pending deal, because Port Authority Chairman David Kooris said so last month, is that it calls for the state to cover all cost overruns for the wind makeover, which the authority has been projecting at a baseline of $93 million.
I have obtained, though, from a source, an estimate (posted on the day.com with this column) dated July 2, 2018, from Aecom, the giant multinational engineering firm, 157 on the 2019 Forbes 500 list, which gives a $349 million cost breakdown for dredging and structural improvements planned for the state's two piers in New London.
Dredging and channel improvements alone for the project would be $85 million, according to the Aecom estimates. Structural improvements to the piers and quays are estimated at $168 million. Just the pier utilities are estimated at $6.3 million. And on and on it goes, until you get to a grand total of $349 million.
And that's an 18-month old estimate, which of course doesn't include overruns.
That $349 million also doesn't include the millions extra it will cost to make new accommodations for Cross Sound Ferry. The port authority knows how much those are estimated to cost, too, but of course they won't tell us before Tuesday's meeting.
Wouldn't you think the Republicans would be outraged by the Democratic governor signing such an enormous blank check, all planned in secret.
I thought the Republicans cared about fiscal responsibility. Apparently, if it doesn't involve a toll gantry they could care less, even if it means underwriting a Danish conglomerate for a deal that will help make a lot of people rich.
Maybe the most alarming disclosure on the agenda posted Friday is "consideration and approval" of the "transfer of ownership of the New London State Pier from the Department of Transportation to the Connecticut Port Authority."
It's hard to imagine that the first mention of the governor's plan to turn over a strategic transportation asset to a dysfunctional quasi-public agency was in an agenda item for a hastily called special meeting.
The port authority has few employees, no executive director, a board beset by vacancies and is run by someone whose own hurried appointment was engineered to expire before the legislature can review it.
This same quasi-public agency, which is still paying tens of thousands of dollars to private lawyers to fight Freedom of Information requests aimed at uncovering more corruption, will own southeastern Connecticut's deep water port?
And the governor has decided to pull all this off in secret, all to the benefit of private investors? This is Connecticut run like a hedge fund.
Of course I fault the governor for such bold disregard of the principles of open and transparent government.
If these are all great policy and planning achievements, the right way to spend all that money, then why not lay it out in public for all to see, before a broken quasi-public agency, commandeered and run commando style by the governor, is made to gavel it into place.
I fault the governor, but more important I blame the cowardly legislators who are letting him do it. Shame on all of them.
This is the opinion of David Collins

Connecticut Port Authority board to vote on $157 million redevelopment plan
Julia Bergman      
A projected $157 million plan to redevelop State Pier into a staging area for the offshore wind industry will be voted on by the Connecticut Port Authority at a special meeting in Hartford Tuesday.
The plan, which has been the subject of negotiations for 18 months, would entail offshore wind developers ├śrsted and Eversource, known jointly as North East Offshore, or NEO, subleasing State Pier from Gateway, the current pier operator, for a minimum of 10 years to use the facility for the pre-assembly of wind turbine generators.
NEO's Revolution Wind Farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard, which is expected to be operational by 2023, will supply 300 megawatts of offshore wind power to Connecticut.
David Kooris, chairman of the port authority's board, gave board members a copy of the redevelopment plan 10 days ago to give them time to review it before voting Tuesday. The vote was expected to happen last month but got pushed back due to the parties — Kooris, the state, NEO and Gateway — needing a bit more time to finalize the plan before presenting it to the board.
Negotiations were complicated by a tumultuous year for the port authority in 2019, in which questions about the authority's spending practices and operations led to state hearings and the Lamont administration stepping in to provide greater oversight.
The cost of the redevelopment was originally expected to cost $93 million, but the relocation of a large installation vessel, which will be used to transport wind turbine components, from the southern end of the pier, as originally planned, to the east end of the facility increased the cost by $44 million.
The plan also involves filling in water between the two existing piers to provide for additional space. The idea was presented at a public meeting last September when some of the details of the proposed redevelopment were unveiled. Kooris has said since then the parties have been working to incorporate public concerns raised at the meeting into a final agreement.
The port authority's board is also expected to vote on a variety of resolutions at its meeting Tuesday, including one to transfer ownership of State Pier from the state Department of Transportation to the port authority. Max Reiss, spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont's office, said the transfer of ownership of State Pier would also have to be approved by the State Properties Review Board and the state treasurer.
Several years ago, after the port authority was established and took over the maritime functions of the state from DOT, the authority and DOT entered into a memorandum of understanding, to transfer control of State Pier from DOT to the port authority.
State lawmakers were briefed on the redevelopment Monday evening. Later on, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, put out a statement that Tuesday's vote should be delayed to give the public and lawmakers a chance to weigh in on the plan.
"While a special meeting tomorrow morning is open to public participation, the administration has already scheduled a press conference just hours later to announce the agreement. So why pretend to consider public comment if this agreement is already baked? The process falls devastatingly short of what the public deserves," Fasano said.
Formica questioned whether ownership of State Pier should be turned over to the port authority given the past issues.
"The indiscretions of the Connecticut Port Authority are still too fresh in all of our minds to simply turn ownership of the pier over to them without assurances that new members, extensive oversight and process controls are firmly in place," Formica said.
Senate Republicans are introducing a legislative proposal Tuesday that Formica said "reins in the actions of all Connecticut quasi-publics including the Port Authority with more transparency and oversight."
Late Monday, the office of Gov. Ned Lamont responded to Fasano and Formica's statement.
"Given the importance of this transformative investment, the Lamont administration took an appropriate and proactive role in shepherding the negotiations to this point, which involved an overhaul of the CPA itself; personnel, policies and procedures," the governor's statement read.
"It's disappointing for the Senate Republican leader, who has an appointment to the CPA board, that he has to ask for a process which has been underway for a year be delayed because he just started paying attention yesterday and needs to play catch up.
"It is a shame Republicans continue to cast doubt about the future of Connecticut's economy and its greenhouse gas reduction goals, just one week after the governor called for a more positive tone across our politics. This agreement, pending the approval of the CPA, will be historic and transformative for the southeastern Connecticut economy and for our climate future, and we hope, one day, Republicans see the benefit of such a deal."
Kevin Blacker, a frequent critic of the port authority, is planning a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Custom House on Bank Street in New London to "talk about how to force a rebid of the State Pier deal, how to leverage full disclosure and accountability from the CT Port Authority, and how State Pier and the Thames should be set up in an honest fashion that will benefit Southeastern Connecticut and the State the most." The public is invited.

XL Center A Priority For Connecticut Governor In 2020 Legislative Session

Gov. Ned Lamont wants money to fix up Hartford’s XL Center.
It’s part of his budget proposal, and the request is meant to spark a $100 million renovation of the 45-year-old building in downtown Hartford.

That’s not something bond committee member Chris Davis will support.
“We keep hearing that there’s talks of potentially doing private partnerships, but I fear that we’d be throwing this money at it, basically putting the cart before the horse,” said Davis, a Republican state lawmaker who represents East Windsor and Ellington.
Davis thinks Lamont’s proposal is a Band-Aid on a building that doesn’t have long-term viability.
Mike Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority -- the group that runs the XL Center -- believes this path is the only way forward to maximize the arena’s value to the downtown economy.
“It pushes hotel nights. It pushes restaurant activity. It pushes value in properties around the building that in turn, translate [into] tax revenues,” Freimuth said. “All that’s lost if you don’t keep the building operating.”
Past attempts to revamp the XL Center have failed, including former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan for a $250 million rebuild.
The CRDA has also tried to sell the building in order to get a private partner to renovate it. But that didn’t draw serious interest.
“I think it’s an issue of getting this done quickly -- that’s the biggest issue because if it languishes for four or five more years, you won’t [have] a building that can be used anymore,” said state Rep. Matt Ritter (D-Hartford). “We have to get this done very, very quickly, and I think we will.”
Ritter said the bond package that includes the XL Center allocation could be signed off on within 50 days.
Davis, the Republican state representative, wants the state to abandon the XL Center renovation. Instead, he’d like the state to consider constructing a smaller arena that would go together with Dunkin’ Donuts Park to establish an entertainment district in the north end of Hartford.

Duff, Rilling, and State and Local Officials Announce Plan for New Norwalk High School The State of Connecticut Agrees to Fund 80% of the Costs for the New High School
NORWALK, CT - Today, at Norwalk High School, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) announced plans for a new Norwalk High School with Mayor Harry Rilling (D-Norwalk), Director of the Connecticut Office of School Construction Grants & Review Konstantinos (Kosta) Diamantis, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Adamowski, State Representatives Lucy Dathan, Travis Simms, and Chris Perone, local Board of Education members, members of the Norwalk Common Council, and other local officials.
The new 337,000-square-foot facility will feature three educational programs accommodating a total of 2,000 students. 80% of the construction costs for the new school will come from the state of Connecticut through this plan.
In addition to the thousand-student population of Norwalk High School, the campus will additionally support P-TECH Norwalk, formerly referred to as the Norwalk Early College Academy, while expanding its enrollment from 400 to 500 students. The 500-student Norwalk Visual and Performing Arts Academy will also be included in the new campus.
“Today’s historic announcement is a tremendous win for the students, educators, families, and taxpayers of Norwalk,” said Senator Duff. “The new Norwalk High School is a commitment to the next generation of Norwalk Bears coupling state-of-the-art facilities with innovative programming. In addition, state funding will account for 80% of the construction costs in order to protect local taxpayers.”
“I would like to thank Kosta, Governor Lamont, and the entire administration for believing in this project and helping make today a reality,” Duff continued. “Additionally, this announcement would not be possible without the support of our local leaders like Mayor Rilling, Dr. Adamowski, and our Board of Education.”
“This is wonderful news! We are excited to capitalize on this moment and replace the 48 year old school instead of taking a Band-Aid approach to repairs,” said Mayor Harry Rilling. “We have worked hard with the Board of Ed and through our State Delegation, led by Senator Duff, to make this happen. A new Norwalk High School is great news for our students, families, staff, and community. With 80% reimbursement for Norwalk High, we will continue moving forward with other much-needed school capital improvement projects across the city.”
“We believe that the new high school will be a ‘game changer’ in Norwalk education,” said Dr. Steven Adamowski, Superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools. “I look forward to working with our teachers, administrators and Board of Education to develop education program specifications for a new high school building that will support the secondary education of generations of NHS students, at a level of excellence comparable to the finest secondary schools in Connecticut and the US. We are grateful to all the state and local officials who have worked diligently to make this opportunity available.”
"Meeting the educational needs of Norwalk’s children is facing a challenge,” said Rep. Perone. “How to best prepare our students for the future when the building they are learning in is reaching the end of its useful life. Norwalk High was built 50 years ago so this means we need to begin now to discuss what will take its place. With that thought in mind, we need to insist that the 2000 Norwalk High students enrolled in P-TECH, the Arts and Norwalk High are taught in brand new, state-of-the-art, multipurpose educational spaces. These learning spaces will be wired for the latest technology, energy efficient and equipped with the tools to give our children every chance to succeed."
“A major contributing factor to successful educational outcomes is an environment that is conducive to learning,” Rep. Simms said. “Investments in facilities that meet the needs of modern day instruction provide for the best returns. I am looking forward to the new high school’s completion for the benefit of all our Norwalk students.”
“I am delighted to celebrate the completion of this new state-of-the-art Norwalk High School project and that our students will be able to take advantage of the great educational opportunities this facility will offer,” said Rep. Dathan. “I am committed to supporting efforts that advance our goals so that families, students and school administrators get the tools and resources needed to succeed. Education is the foundation of strong communities and I am proud to stand with all the partners that made this possible.”
The P-TECH program, a partnership program with IBM and Norwalk Community College, allows students access to develop professional skills for the STEM industry, with first-in-line access to paid IBM internships and an offer for students to simultaneously earn associate’s degrees from Norwalk Community College in technical majors including web development, mobile programming or software engineering. Of its 2018 inaugural graduating class, the P-TECH program saw 68 students graduate, 12 of them earning simultaneous associate degrees in software engineering from NCC.
As part of the extensive project and expansion of the P-TECH program, the school will source these additional 100 students from outside of Norwalk, with students in other Fairfield County towns including Stamford and Bridgeport eligible to participate in a “tuition or student exchange” program. That advancement is designed to increase access to educational resources for underserved populations and break down economic and racial lines in the region.
Additionally, the school’s Arts component, supporting 500 students from Norwalk, will see the addition of a variety of new resources for visual and digital arts, theater, acting and dance among other specializations. Students will have access to new, state-of-the-art ceramics, arts and digital arts rooms and a TV film studio with additional classes taught in topics including theater design and costume design for a fully rounded and targeted process.
The school will feature 47 classrooms, including four each of biology, chemistry and physics laboratories, two computer science labs and two Makerspaces for engineering use. The campus will also feature music rooms including orchestral and choral rooms and dance studios as well as extensive resources for current and future students to utilize in a variety of different ways.

 

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