Data centers are seen as powerful economic drivers that allow cities, regions and states to generate jobs and tax revenue.
However, Connecticut has largely missed out on opportunities to land such high-tech facilities.
Generally, burdensome property taxes and highest-in-the-nation electricity prices are major hurdles. Another challenge is that, unlike in dominant data-center states like Virginia, government incentives for such facilities aren’t a lock.
Mark Wick and his partners have found ways to overcome all those hurdles, and are now poised to build, at a vacant historic manufacturing site in New Britain, Connecticut’s largest-ever data center.
The massive 465,000-square-foot data-center project in New Britain — called the Energy & Innovation Park — isn’t necessarily a sign that these high-tech facilities will be flocking to the state.
It required major subsidies to make the project happen.
The first step was the state assigning it a long-term contract to sell electricity from 20 megawatts of on-site fuel cells to utilities at an above-market price. (EIP hopes to install another 44 megawatts at the site in the future).
A data center is a secure, high-tech facility that centralizes processing and networking equipment and handles increasingly massive amounts of data on behalf of large companies or other institutions.
The EIP site will likely operate as a “colocation” data center, rented out by multiple companies, rather than an in-house data center with just one user.
Colocation centers, according to networking giant Cisco, rent space, cooling, bandwidth and security. Tenants typically provide their own equipment, such as servers.
“The challenge for Connecticut, because we have done so little in the past, is getting up and rolling and becoming a visible, credible location,” said Carstensen.
Major data-center markets currently include northern Virginia, Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Phoenix, according to commercial real estate broker CBRE.
Carstensen said he hopes the New Britain data center will start to change Connecticut’s competitive position in the Northeast, help draw new businesses, and perhaps even bolster college programs in data science.
Wick said his group is in discussions with four data-center providers and hopes to have a lease agreement by the end of this year.
EIP LLC is the entity formed to represent the development group and its financial partners.
The latter include two New York investment managers, Pleasant Lake Partners (PLP) and Arena Holdings.
Arena Holdings CEO Feroz Dewan has been a board member at Kraft Heinz since 2016. A former partner at Tiger Global Management, Dewan earned $200 million in 2014, according to a Forbes ranking of hedge-fund manager earnings.
A long time coming
The Stanley Works campus, which borders Myrtle, Curtis and Burritt streets, is a 53-acre section of New Britain’s urban core that’s still owned by Stanley Black & Decker.
Stanley operated several divisions at the site for much of the 20th century, but abandoned it over the years up until its move to its current headquarters, in the northern section of the city, closer to the Farmington border.
Given its location and other factors, building out a large new Class A office complex didn’t seem like a good bet.
“You’re not going to turn that into prime office space because you’re just not going to have the draw or the people or companies to occupy it,” said Wick, a longtime management and energy consultant who resides in Redding.
What the property has, he said, is accessible industrial infrastructure such as natural gas, hydro electricity and fiber. In addition, the buildings are built to withstand a bomb blast. The floors in some of the now unused buildings can bear loads four to five times a typical building.
New London — After months of negotiating in private, the Connecticut Port Authority will unveil for the first time Tuesday a plan to redevelop State Pier into a staging area for the offshore wind industry and will then ask the public to comment on the proposal.
The details will be presented at a public meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn in New London.
The proposal is for "maximum utilization" of the State Pier facility, which, during construction campaigns, would be used exclusively by the offshore wind industry, but also includes bringing in other types of cargo, said David Kooris, acting chairman of the port authority's board and deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
"There's a lot of hybrid in-betweens," Kooris said.
Tuesday's event will start informally at 5 p.m. with the parties involved in the $93 million private-public investment at State Pier set up at tables to talk about the various aspects of the project.
Representatives from Eversource and Ørsted, partners in the Revolution Wind Farm planned for federal waters about 65 miles off the coast of New London, and Gateway, the New Haven-based port operator selected by the port authority earlier this year to manage operations at State Pier, will be present.
A formal presentation will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by public comment. The port authority is asking anyone wishing to comment at the meeting to sign up when they arrive at the event.
The port authority has been beset by challenges as it has worked to hash out the details of the State Pier deal, announced by Gov. Ned Lamont in early May, including personnel issues and scrutiny over financial decision making. But port authority officials and the other parties to the redevelopment plan have maintained that the offshore wind deal is pushing forward.
Tuesday's meeting will also include discussion of the offshore wind industry and its implications for New London, which officials have pushed as a hub for the offshore wind industry, citing its location, skilled workforce and lack of height restrictions.
New Fairfield building projects draw mixed reactions
NEW FAIRFIELD — There was a mix of questions, concerns, support and skepticism from attendees of Monday night’s public hearing on the school district’s proposed $113.4 million building projects.At least 100 people gathered inside New Fairfield High School’s auditorium for a proposal from the Board of Education, calling for a $84.2 million new high school and a $29.2 million addition onto Meeting House Hill School.Pre-kindergarten through first grade would move out of Consolidated Elementary School and into the addition, while second-graders would go into an existing wing at Meeting House.
The district has applied for a state grant that would cover part of the cost. School officials have said the existing high school and Consolidated need millions of dollars worth of upgrades because they are in poor condition.
The building project has been discussed by the Board of Education since April.
One longtime New Fairfield resident said he doesn’t believe that’s enough time for a decision to be made on such an expensive project.
“I don’t know why there’s a big rush for this big plan,” he said. “I think this project is going way too fast. I think we have to slow down and get a grip on this.”
Another resident, however, said there is a “dire” need for the projects.
She said a tile recently fell from the ceiling of a room occupied by students at the Consolidated School “because it was so saturated.”
“There’s no zero-dollar option for me. There needs to be something (done) so ceiling tiles aren’t falling on children’s heads,” she said.
School officials estimate that, with state reimbursements, the combined cost of the two projects for taxpayers would be $79,990,732.
Work on the high school would consist of 143,000 square-feet of new construction, field replacements, locker room renovations and Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades to kitchen and servery.
The estimated cost of the high school project is $84,214,908. The town expects a 27.86% state reimbursement, which would leave a $61,638,572 total cost to the town.
The learning academy project would involve 44,000 square-feet of new construction, modifications to the Meeting House Hill School, replacement of the bus lot and demolition of the current Consolidated School — the estimated cost of which is $29,185,907.
New wave of women in construction are creating a community and a future for themselves
Maile Pingel, The Washington Post
Angela Cacace's career began with a magazine contest. The Washington, D.C., barber had moved to North Carolina for her husband's job and so successfully remodeled their kitchen that she won a contest in This Old House. Encouraged by the story's editor to pursue her contracting dreams, she enrolled in a local building program. "I was so nervous on the first day of class," she recalls, "but six of the 12 students were women - I was blown away. I remember an instant feeling of confidence that we had a place here."
She posted on Facebook about the number of women in the class, adding, as a joke, #MoveOverBob. "Every woman I knew fell in love with it," says Cacace, 32, explaining that the hashtag was inspired by cartoon character Bob the Builder and isn't about replacing men but simply asking them to make a little room. (In the interest of gender equality, Bob's creators have since given his sidekick Wendy a promotion to electrical engineer and business partner.) That hashtag would grow into a Facebook page, a website and an Instagram handle featuring photos of women doing demo, laying tile and wielding sledgehammers.
It took two phone calls, Cacace says, one from a male classmate and friend and the other from her teacher, "both telling me that they believed in my abilities and I needed to stop working for free, quit barbering and get to work in construction," she says, before she made contracting her full-time focus. "I still find myself doing work for free - part of that comes from my customer service background of always wanting to go the extra mile - but, unfortunately, the other part of it is a lack of confidence in my place in the industry. Like, to make up for being a woman I have to give a little more."
Women still make up only about 9% of the construction industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the isolation is real. It's a vulnerability that has also led to intimidation and harassment, even assault. But a new wave of female contractors is creating a community for themselves to fight the loneliness that comes along with being a small minority in the field. They are also hoping to inspire women coming up behind them, to build a support system they don't feel they had. "There's an older generation of kick-ass women," says Cacace, "but there's a generation gap in construction because of a lack of encouragement."
"Through social media I can connect with other women doing the same things; we can exchange ideas and vent about difficult moments," says Rachel Street, 35, of the Street Group, who started renovating homes in Philadelphia after sinus surgeries brought her back from Italy and a burgeoning opera career. "I fixed up my first house, and people started asking me to do theirs," she explains. She got her contracting and real estate licenses and started fixing houses to sell. She also got a reputation for cleaning up other contractors' shoddy work and became an in-demand choice for female and LGBTQ clients who felt safer in her company. "I lean into communities of people who feel that hiring a contractor is stressful," she says. "It's different when I come in the door."
But the job wasn't always easy. "I was really self-conscious about being a contractor at first," she says, recalling changing out of her work clothes before leaving a job site. "People look at you differently when you're covered in dirt. And I felt nervous entering supply houses in South Philly. It's generations of men-run businesses, and some were pretty rough, pretty disrespectful. It was discouraging." Now though, "I've got credibility and those same guys are my best buddies. They even load the truck for me."Her work and Instagram presence soon got the attention of a television producer who contacted her about creating a show. The result was DIY Network's "Philly Revival" (she also has a new HGTV show, "Philly Street Flippin' "), and it had unexpected reverberations. "I've been contacted by women starting in construction. They really feel empowered by seeing the show. It's all about authenticity and showing as much as possible in the episodes. I'm really there doing it," Street says. "It's important to show women being physical. The more people see female faces, the more normal it becomes."
The changes aren't lost on Sarah Tull, who, as president of the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, has an up-close view of the business. "The industry has become much more open to women, and I'm seeing more on building sites, in meetings and in the trades," she says. And it's a trend reflected in the association's numbers: 4,845 members across the United States, with 119 regional chapters and six new locations in development. The D.C. chapter alone has grown more than 200% in the past four years.
The association provides a community, or "a safe place," as Tull, 42, puts it, in a more traditional, face-to-face format, but its leaders hope to begin boosting their online presence. (Staffed primarily by volunteers, most of whom are working mothers, the group has a labor shortage of its own.) Its annual event, Women in Construction Week, is now better known by the hashtag #WICWeek. In the past two years, #WICWeek posts on Instagram have gone from 147 to 1,662.
Female architects, too, are championing the arrival of more women in the field, especially general contractors. "The most difficult issue to overcome is people's misconceptions that women's work is of less value," says New York architect Anik Pearson, 47, who has witnessed female contractors repeatedly offer lower quotes than their male competitors. "I want women to prove the misconceptions wrong. And I want clients to pay them a fair price for their work," she says.Former architect Jean Brownhill, 42, founder of New York City client-contractor matchmaking service Sweeten, hopes to see the same. Just this summer, she launched the Sweeten Accelerator for Women initiative to provide her roster of female general contractors with greater visibility via its own website, as well as mentorship and educational opportunities. "There's a demand for them, and the digital platform we're building can help distribute work equally," says Brownhill, adding that the narrative around what a general contractor is needs to change. "A contractor isn't just a big guy swinging a hammer. The job is more about organization, logistics and the deployment of resources. It's a great career path for women who want to start families or who have an interest in interior design."
Denise Hernandez hadn't considered construction as a career until her father asked her and her siblings whether they would like to take the reins of the family business, Hernandez Cos. in Phoenix, Ariz., upon his retirement. The company began with her father selling plumbing parts out of his truck in the 1970s, something she helped with during childhood summers. With her now at the helm of its financial side, the firm is 60-employees strong and holds commercial contracts with major clients, including the city of Phoenix, Bank of America, PepsiCo and Sky Harbor International Airport. "In my role, I get to see both sides of the company, financial and operational," she says. "I'd love to see more women in all the trades, absolutely, but also in the offices and on the project management side, like me."
Lately, she, too, has been seeing more women joining the field. "More and more women are graduating from Arizona State University's construction program. They're doing a really good job at presenting construction as an opportunity," she says. "There's a lack of knowledge that it's even possible for a woman to be a contractor." Hernandez, 51, is convinced that "networking is the number one thing young women should do. Build relationships so you're not afraid to ask for help."
"My entire office is women who have found me on Instagram or my blog, or by hearing me speak," says Joan Barton, 51, of Dirty Girl Construction in Los Angeles, adding that even more women have been calling in the past year. "Construction is intense, but women are really amazing business people. We're multitaskers, we're artistic and we can spin our talents into things. There are a million moving parts to building a home, and everything has to be in rhythm." A former composer, Barton got into the construction business by going to work for a contractor friend when the music industry went digital. "I wrote music for TV commercials. I worked 10 years to get there. Then it crashed. They didn't need orchestras anymore and I didn't want to sell out."
Many of the women calling her have gone through career shifts, too, coming from backgrounds in interior design and architecture but also film, fashion and sculpture. "Usually something I've written resonates with them, whether that be my history, my honesty or my perspective," says Barton, adding that she wants to use her online presence to "connect and elevate people, and to demystify the process of coming into your own."
Ruth Black of Ruins to Renovation (RTR) Design Build in Los Angeles also found construction as a second career. After a writers' strike ground film projects to a halt, Black, now 54, fell back on her talent for fixing up houses, something she learned from her parents. "Women contractors have to be willing to make their own way and to change the trajectory of what men have defined. I'm older, remember; I missed the whole tech thing. I literally just learned there were stories on Instagram and how to make one!" she says. "I wish so much there had been this road map out there for me when I started, to even know that a career like this is possible."
To combat her feelings of isolation, Black has embraced a wider community by listening to podcasts such as "On Being," "With Friends Like These" and "The Tim Ferriss Show" as she travels between job sites, often sitting in L.A. traffic. "Role models are everywhere," she says. "We just need to open our eyes."
Cacace is proud of the work she's done organizing and connecting women to elevate their ranks in the construction industry. But she and other women in the trades say what's really needed is for trade-skill classes to be returned to schools. After all, the world needs plumbers just as much as it needs doctors. "We have a culture of college degrees, but it's just leading to debt. Meanwhile, people in the trades are doing okay. I have to turn work down now," Cacace says.
"Trades have been pushed to the sides or are seen as lesser options, but right out of school you can start making upwards of $60,000," echoes Street.
"Get home economics back into schools," Barton says. "Let's give kids the skills they need for basic household management: how to fix a drain, how to balance accounts, how to afford their lives. Put tools in their hands and get them outside."
For the time being, these women are doing what they can at the grass-roots level.
Barton is starting "Women on Women," workshops for women in construction and other atypical vocations. ("It's a chance to tell our secrets, to pass on our knowledge," she says.)
Hernandez is on the board of her local Habitat for Humanity.
Cacace, an avid carpenter, hopes to convert her home workshop into a place where she can teach introductory wood shop classes.
Black is involved with youth-focused organizations P.S. Arts and Covenant House, which respectively provide arts education and shelter services, and gives teenagers job site experience. ("The kids who don't sit still, who maybe don't learn the way our education system teaches.")
Street recently worked with trade-skill program Generation T to help kids build doghouses for Boston-area shelters. "They learned how to cut wood and use a nail gun. It was really interesting to see girls shying away at first but then gaining confidence."
And after reading an American Institute of Architects survey that reported young female architects abandoned their careers in part because of a lack of role models, Pearson, too, is ringing the bell for mentorship with a new seminar series, "Women Entering the Profession of Architecture," that connects emerging and experienced practitioners.
In the face of all the IRL community-building, a hashtag might seem like such a small thing. For Cacace, it was just the start. "I hope young women will find #MoveOverBob and think, 'Maybe I'll do that!' " she says. "I just want to let people know we're out here doing it and enjoying it, and that men are supporting us. I've been as surprised by men's willingness to make room for me as they've been surprised to see me arrive on a job site. But it's becoming less of a surprise now. Normalization is power." The town expects a 37.86% state reimbursement for the learning academy project, which would leave a $18,352,160 total cost to the town.
A special Board of Finance meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a special Board of Selectmen meeting at 7:30 p.m.
A special town meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 26, and a referendum is expected to take place Oct. 5.
Torrington City Council tables vote on sewer extention project
BRUNO MATARAZZO JR.
TORRINGTON — The City Council Monday voted unanimously to table a vote on a sewer extension project for Homestead Road and Kimball Lane after residents raised concerns about the cost of the project, specifically the assessment each homeowner would face once completed.
The council was to vote on a $1 million bid from Morais Concrete Services of Springfield, Mass., which was the lowest bid on the project. The price upset residents; however, they later learned the project was for two projects: a smaller project on Hartford Avenue that cost $247,955 and the Homstead/Kimball project for $756,370.
Many residents attended the City Council meeting Monday, with some questioning the costs and others asking the city pick up a portion.
It was in November 2018 when many of those same residents attended a hearing to ask the council, acting as the Water Pollution Control Authority, to approve a sewer extension to those two roads.
The failing septic systems of many of the homes, some of which were the original ones installed in the 1950s, prompted the need for the project.
The council vote on Monday wasn’t for determining how the 22 homeowners on those roads would pay for the project, which would be determined later following a hearing. The vote was only for the low bid on the project.
The city is looking to construct 2,200 feet of new sewer lines on the two roads that will connect to the sewer line already on Pondside Lane.
The Torrington Water Company is also planning to install water lines to the homes. Public Works Director Ray Drew said he pressed the water company to do the projects at the same time but they were unable. The water company plans to install the lines in the spring, he said.
The city can recoup all or a percentage through a benefit assessment, which will be determined after the project is completed.
Each assessment on the 22 homes is approximately $37,000; however, that figure is expected to decrease after City Council member Frank Rubino recommended $72,400 for permanent trench pavement over where the lines are installed.
Residents can pay the assessment all at once or in installments over a period of time, typically 15 to 30 years.
The last time the city extended a sewer line within the city was in 1996 and property owners who benefited bore 100% of the cost of the project. Residents paid for the project over 15 years in the assessment.
When asked if the EPA would offer funding for a new sewer system, Public Works Director Ray Drew said funding is available but it requires a lengthy application progress and it would only be for loans, not grants.
City Council member Paul E. Cavagnero said he is concerned about the precedent the council would set when it determines how to determine the assessments. He said he wants to hear from residents about what they think is a fair way to assess the project.