STRATFORD -- Students at Stratford High School were sent home Thursday morning after ceiling tiles and whiteboards shifted in a classroom wing.
School officials also cancelled all afternoon and evening activities at the North Parade Street high school, but Superintendent Janet Robinson said she expects the school to be open and operating normally Friday.
Robinson said the problem does not appear to be related to the weight of accumulated snow on the aging school's roof.
The town engineer and representatives of Turner Construction Co. spent much of the day Thursday in the section of the school to the left of the main entrance, trying to determine why two ceiling tiles and two classroom whiteboards were "askew,'' Robinson said.
"As a precaution it was decided to evacuate that wing,'' the superintendent said.
"Since we couldn't just shift 1,000 students into one wing, it was decided to send everyone home.'' Students left the building at 9:30 a.m.
There are 20 classrooms, but no cafeteria or auditorium in the affected wing, officials said.
Principal Joseph Corso informed parents through an email blast that students and staff were in no danger, "but as always, we strive to put first and foremost the safety and well-being of our students and staff while the engineers do the work they need to do.''
The town and the Board of Education are in the beginning stages of a $90 million project to "renovate as new'' the existing Stratford High School.
Construction has not begun and Thursday's incident is not related to the project, officials said.
Brookfield nearly off the hook for $7M reimbursement to state
BROOKFIELD -- The mystery of the missing construction receipts is solved -- mostly.
Taxpayers no longer appear to be on the hook for $7 million in state grants that auditors were demanding back unless Brookfield could find missing paperwork from subcontractors involved on the high school renovation completed in 2008.
It turns out a significant amount of the missing documentation was in the files of a former schools superintendent, John Getz.
"My understanding is we opened up the file cabinet and viola -- there is was," First Selectman Bill Tinsley said. "A lot of information they were looking for we sent to them, and I believe there is still some subcontractor information that they are waiting on."
The state Department of Administrative Service had set a Friday deadline for the town to provide the missing subcontractor bids and receipts, or repay the $7 million the state education department awarded for the $28 million high school renovation project.
Since Brookfield is trying to find other subcontractor records not in the former superintendent's files, the state has extended its deadline to March 6, acting Schools Superintendent Ralph Iassogna said.
He said he was hopeful the remaining records could be retrieved through the project's general contractor, Danbury-based Morganti.
"I am waiting to hear from Morganti and I anticipate after that we will be able to move forward," Iassogna said.
Brookfield has been trying to move forward after recent back-to-back accounting scandals involving the first selectman and the former superintendent of schools.
The trouble started in 2013 when a town audit found $1.2 million in unauthorized spending in the school budget over the previous two years. That prompted the school district's director of business to resign last February.
The school board considered then-Superintendent Anthony J. Bivona ultimately responsible for the financial mismanagement. He was fired in October, and the Internal Revenue Service began an investigation into the school district's 2013 payroll. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Siting Council must strike abalance on power plant
Opponents' arguments against a proposed 805-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant in Oxford can be summed up simply -- we don't need it and we don't want it.
The plant's backers counter the first objection by citing long-range forecasts of the region's energy needs, the pending retirement of numerous plants around New England and projected growth in demand.
The second argument is harder to satisfy.
Strong opposition has gathered in recent months to plans from Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures to build a power plant on a 26-acre site on Woodruff Hill Road, less than a mile from Waterbury-Oxford Airport and the Oxford Greens senior housing development. Homes in a Middlebury neighborhood are even closer.
"It's an example of a public good that would have a regional benefit but people think would have a locally negative impact, and no one wants it," said Sara Bronin, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and faculty director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Law.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil, she said, but that may not matter to opponents. "In the case of a power plant, probably people's fears about power plants generally are what's coming into play," she said. "People worry about having anything that's on such a huge scale anywhere in their backyard."
Two smokestacks on the plant would rise 150 feet from a hill overlooking the airport.
The decision is before the Connecticut Siting Council, where hearings continued this week on the plant's potential environmental impacts. A decision must be reached by May.
ISO New England, the independent, nonprofit corporation that operates the power grid across six states, is tracking the retirement of a number of power sources across New England. More than 3,400 megawatts of generating power will go offline in the next few years, which amounts to more than 10 percent of the roughly 31,000 megawatts on the grid.
To help fill that gap, about 9,500 megawatts of generation has been proposed around the region, mostly natural gas and wind-powered. "That's a healthy amount of proposed resources, but we typically see about a 70 percent attrition rate," said Lacey Girard, a spokeswoman for ISO, which means most of the planned projects will not come to fruition. "These are projects that may have trouble getting financing or siting approval." CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
East Hampton may establish police station department building committee
EAST HAMPTON >> The Town Council is studying a proposal to establish a police department building committee. Town Council Chairwoman Barbara Moore presented the council with a draft resolution for the committee during a council meeting Tuesday. The existing police station, located in the basement of Town Hall, is outmoded, too small at just under 2,900 square feet and inadequate for a 21st century police department, town officials have said.
Police Chief Sean Cox said the headquarters is a liability issue waiting to happen. In 2008, the Friar Report on town facilities found the police department “was lacking space and was in disrepair,” according to language contained in the draft resolution. That state of disrepair impacts “the efficiency and effectiveness of the services and safety delivered to East Hampton residents,” the resolution continues. However, “minimal work has been done since 2008 to substantially change or enhance” the police facility, according to the resolution. Last year, the council established a Facilities Evaluation Committee which determined a new police station had “the highest priority for a new facility,” according to the language of the proposed resolution.
In discussions earlier this year, it was also revealed the current station is not in compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is meant to ensure access to all public building by the handicapped. Moore is proposing the council establish a seven-member committee “whose charge shall be to design, build and/or renovate a police facility.” The members will be drawn from residents “who demonstrate knowledge of building, design, architecture, engineering and other related fields that will aid in the development and completion of a Police Facility.” CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
North Stonington outlines schol priority projects
North Stonington - In an effort to build consensus and community support for a new school building plan, town and school officials on Thursday night discussed the priorities that should be included in an eventual plan. Members of the selectmen, education and finance boards told facilitator Nick Caruso from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education what their top priorities are based on a list devised by school board member Bob Carlson, who extracted them from the previously defeated plans. The meeting was the second in a series of sessions by the officials to develop a proposal that will be acceptable to taxpayers. "My challenge is to help you come to a consensus about what has to happen and that, when you bring a project forward, you can support it and get the support of the community," Caruso said. He told the group that everyone agrees work needs to be done in the schools but there have been questions about the affordability, size and depth of the project. Last year, taxpayers twice defeated a referendum asking them to approve projects of $47 million and $40 million, in part because Caruso said there was not agreement among the three boards.
In the area of safety, Carlson said possible priorities include PCB and asbestos removal in the middle and high schools, and discontinuing or modifying the use of the tunnel under Route 2. Elementary safety items include moving the administration office to the front foyer, moving the computer room to the first floor so preschool and kindergarten students do not have to be on the second floor, discontinue the use of the multipurpose room for physical education in part because of the slippery floor and improving the pick up and drop off traffic pattern. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
State takes input on bridge project
New London - State Department of Transportation officials welcomed comments Thursday on an upcoming $22 million rehabilitation project for the southbound side of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.
The work, expected to begin in the spring of 2017, is still in the preliminary design phase and may take until the fall of 2018 to complete.
State DOT Project Manager Andrew Cardinali said the purpose of Thursday's meeting at City Hall was to allow for any concerns expressed by businesses, municipalities or citizens to be incorporated into the final design.
Four people attended Thursday's presentation.
Cardinali described the work as preventive maintenance on the 41-year-old bridge, with the major portion of the rehabilitation focused on the deck. A $2.3 million portion of the work also is slated for the exit ramp taking traffic onto Route 32 in New London. There will be temporary lane closures during off-peak hours.
Work involves complete removal of the cracking asphalt and the protective membrane underneath to expose the concrete below. Workers will patch the concrete deck along the 593,000-square-foot length of the mile-long bridge where needed.
"Motorist will be driving on concrete instead of asphalt for a while," Cardinali said.
The work includes the replacement of three overhead signs and their supports - probably the only time when workers will need to temporarily shut down all travel lanes of the highway, Cardinali said. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Consultants present option for Groton school construction
Groton - The consultants advising Groton on new school construction outlined a new option Thursday: Demolish Carl C. Cutler and West Side middle schools and build new elementary schools on those sites.
The school facilities initiative task force, the group working on a plan for future school construction, had been looking at a plan that would build one new middle school and convert Groton's two existing middle schools into elementary schools. Three older elementary schools, S.B. Butler, Pleasant Valley and Claude Chester elementary schools, would close. The goal is to upgrade school buildings and create racial balance in the district schools.
But educational consultants Milone & MacBroom and SLAM, an engineering, architecture and construction management firm, said the town could build three new schools instead, by building a single new middle school, then demolishing the existing middle schools and building new elementary schools on those sites. Under this scenario, the total cost would rise from about $164.4 million to about $186.5 million, of which $89.1 million would be paid by local taxpayers. By comparison, renovating and expanding the existing middle schools would cost Groton taxpayers about $70.4 million, according to updated figures.
The consultants also offered a third option: Build one new middle school. Then renovate West Side Middle School as an elementary school but don't expand it. Finally, demolish Cutler Middle School and build a larger new elementary school on that site. This would give Groton two new schools and cost about $168.3 million, with a net local cost of $75.3 million. Town Councilor Joe de la Cruz said the district should tear its old schools down and start over. They'd get a new building and cut down on maintenance, he said. The cost estimates for renovations don't include removing hazardous material like asbestos, the consultants said. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Spanish utility subsidiary to buy UIL for $3B
New Haven utility parent UIL Holdings Corp. said it has agreed to be acquired by New England utility operator Iberdrola USA for approximately $3 billion.
The private Iberdrola and the public UIL would form a new publicly traded entity, which will be led by UIL CEO James Torgerson, who said in a statement Wednesday evening that the deal creates a company with greater scale and financial resources to invest in system reliability and infrastructure.
"This is a very compelling transaction for our shareholders," Torgerson said.
Iberdrola's offer of $52.75 per share — nearly 25 percent higher than UIL's Feb. 25 closing price — has been approved by the boards of both companies.
Iberdrola, which has no Connecticut holdings, would own 81.5 percent of the new company.
The combined company would have 3.1 million customers across seven geographic markets served by Iberdrola's utility subsidiaries in New York and Maine, and UIL's holdings in southern Connecticut and western Massachusetts.
It will also have a portfolio of 6.5 gigawatts of renewable generation, including the second-largest wind portfolio in the country, the companies said.
UIL brings more than 725,000 customers to the deal. UIL shareholders would receive one new share every share they hold, plus $10.50 in cash.
Iberdrola USA is a part of the Spanish Iberdrola Group, which formed its subsidiary when it acquired Maine's Energy East in 2008. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Toll Brothers withdraws efforts to develop Cedar Mountain in Newington
NEWINGTON — The 6-year-long battle of Cedar Mountain is over.
Mayor Stephen Woods announced Thursday that Toll Brothers is dropping its long-standing and controversial attempt to build luxury homes on the mountain and the town will seek to buy the property to preserve it as open space.
"I am excited to say that this long, drawn-out, divisive and expensive battle with Toll Brothers is at an end," said Woods, reading from a prepared statement at the close of the annual State of the Town event. "For all of you who asked us to 'Save Cedar Mountain,' I proudly say today that Cedar Mountain has been saved now — and I am committed to preserving it for the future."
The announcement led one member of the audience to shout, "Bravo!"
Toll Brothers' lawyer for the project, Thomas J. Regan of Brown Rudnick, declined to comment Thursday.
The company's decision came after an extended "dialogue" between it and Economic Development Director Andy Brecher, Woods said. At a certain point, Woods and Town Manager John Salomone joined the discussions, Woods said.
Salomone said that the town did not make any payment to Toll Brothers. It's too early to say how the town might finance purchase of the property, he said.
"It really depends on the price and how we could go about it," Salomone said.
Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers, one of the nation's largest home builders, has tried off and on since 2009 to build housing on Cedar Mountain, one of the town's last undeveloped areas. The company's multiple unsuccessful applications stirred fierce opposition from some residents, who feared possible environmental damage and wanted the land near the Wethersfield border preserved as open space.
"After six long years, David slays Goliath," longtime project opponent Gayle Raducha said Thursday. "We did it!"
The conservation commission stymied Toll Brothers' most recent application two years ago when it rejected the company's wetlands permit after extensive hearings. The plan called for 48 high-end homes on 29 acres, with another 44 acres set aside as open space. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE