February 11, 2019

CT Construction Digest Monday February 11, 2019

CT train stations pose difficulties to riders
Ignacio Laguarda
STAMFORD — Walking down the stairs of the parking garage at the Stamford train station can feel a bit like playing a game of hopscotch. Missing steel toecaps and protruding bolts force commuters to dodge obstacles.
Just ask Jeffrey Maron, who once fell on the stairs, and has often tripped trying to navigate the stairwell.“It bruised my ego more than anything else … but people trip all the time,” said Maron, the vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council.
The stairs at the garage may seem like a minor inconvenience to most, but they represent one of the ways in which Metro-North’s New Haven Line can be a challenge for those who have difficulty moving about, either due to handicap or encumbrance such as a large stroller.
The issue of accessibility at train stations in the region has come under more intense light following the death late last month of Stamford resident Malaysia Goodson, 22, who was found unconscious in a New York City subway station after falling down stairs. At the time, she was pushing a stroller carrying her 1-year-old daughter, who survived. The city’s chief medical examiner concluded that Goodson’s death was related to a pre-existing medical condition, not the fall, which Goodson’s family has disputed.
Regardless of any outcome of that dispute, many rail riders in the days following the tragedy commented it was not surprising a fall happened given the threats too many train stations pose, whether in New York or along the lines leading to it.
Maron has long had frustrations with Stamford’s dilapidated parking garage. He said the current layout is counterintuitive, since the easiest access point for disabled customers is through the fourth-floor bridge between the garage and the station’s main lobby, but there is no way to park near that connection, as large swaths have been fenced off.
“You would think that’s the floor people would use most if they were handicapped,” he said.
Stamford is not the only stop along the New Haven line where handicapped riders could have a difficult time. According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, many stations fall short of compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
Several do not have an “up-and-over” system that allows commuters to get from one platform to another. They include Cos Cob, Riverside, Old Greenwich, Noroton Heights, Rowayton, Green’s Farms, Southport, Fairfield and Stratford. East Norwalk is currently non-compliant for lack of elevators and deficiencies in ramp slopes. It is due for an upgrade as part of the Walk Bridge project, which will replace the 122-year-old deteriorating railroad bridge that crosses the Norwalk River.
Along the New Canaan branch, Glenbrook, Springdale and Talmadge Hill have ramps that are too steep. Improvements are planned for many stations along the New Haven Line, with the goal to make the span fully compliant, said Judd Everhart, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. But it could take some time to make that goal reality.“Going forward, whenever the department makes renovations to stations, it works toward making that station fully ADA-compliant,” he said.
But compliance is only part of the challenge, said advocates. To make the line truly user friendly, compliance will have to go hand in hand with maintenance. Some stations, such as Stamford, check off all the boxes when it comes to accessibility, but there are frequent problems with elevators and escalators in disrepair.
One common trouble area is at the Darien train station, where the elevators to each platform are routinely out of order.
Ed Gentile, public works director in Darien, said the elevators are exposed to the weather and salting on the platforms, which leads to malfunctions.
“It’s something that we have to monitor on a regular basis,” he said, adding there is a plan to upgrade the Darien station, at which point the elevators would be replaced with new ones. Without operational elevators, commuters in wheelchairs or pushing strollers must go up a steep incline to get to the station. On one side, they need to go up the driveway, where there is vehicular traffic to contend with.
Gretchen Knauff, the executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut, said stations with such problems are simply not accessible. “If the elevator is not working you’ve created an inaccessible situation, unless they accounted for that,” she said.

Energy revolution demands skilled labor
Lee Worley
We are in the middle of a great shale revolution. For the first time in decades, the U.S. is holding its own against OPEC and Russia, going from energy importer to energy exporter. Unlocking previously inaccessible shale reservoirs deep underground using hydraulic fracturing is becoming our nation’s ticket to energy dominance.
The impact of shale development has made the U.S. the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Two decades ago, our nation was staring down a potential energy crisis, but now we are a world energy leader.
From the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin in Texas to the SCOOP and STACK plays in Oklahoma, the southern region tops the charts with the highest number of oil barrels per day and a huge supply of natural gas liquids to fuel manufacturing growth.
The shale revolution is entering a new stage of maturity, and we must be prepared. These massive energy plants are on a construction scale we haven’t seen in generations.
Are we prepared for such massive scales of construction amid a skilled labor shortage, especially in the southern region? With a wave of baby boomer retirements, workers who switched careers during the recession and a young generation that is not considering construction as a viable career option, contractors are reporting a severe skilled labor shortage in the South.
Such a shortage could lead to higher prices and longer construction schedules. Three out of 4 construction firms are concerned about finding hourly craftworkers over the next year. But is there such a desperate lack of skilled labor, or is the panic due to a disconnect somewhere between supply and demand?
In the South, contractors are scrambling to find skilled labor to man these massive energy plants, but they are overlooking the main source of skilled labor: the building trades. Many contractors are facing delays and having to rework projects while the answer to their crisis is within reach.
The building trades have always maintained a healthy supply of job-ready, skilled, safe workers. They are equipped to face the challenge. They produce skilled workers through comprehensive training, innovative diversity and worker-retention measures, and fair wages. They invest in comprehensive training, including in-depth safety training, saving time and money for contractors and end users. A safe workforce reduces injuries, fatalities and costly delays, adding up to huge cost savings. For example, the Iron Workers training centers collectively spend between $80 million and $90 million a year in apprenticeship and upgrade training.
But the building trades cannot do it alone. They need support to sustain a healthy supply of skilled labor. They need continued support from the Department of Labor and the Trump administration for their apprenticeship programs.President Donald Trump recently announced plans to make expansion of apprenticeship programs the center of his labor policy. We need the administration to keep that promise to fund apprenticeship programs, as they are the bread and butter of maintaining a healthy supply of skilled workers.
The biggest reason for the construction industry’s skilled labor vacuum, which resulted from baby boomers exiting the workforce, is a lack of awareness and planning to build a pipeline of workers. First, we need to stop telling our young people their only path to success is a four-year college degree.
Nontraditional career paths are not often presented as viable and lucrative alternatives to college for young people graduating from high school, who are not often well-informed about nontraditional career alternatives.
According to the Labor Department, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs in the trades allow high school graduates to make a decent living while being trained for a lifelong career, as opposed to accruing college debt for four years.
We need to change the narrative about careers in the skilled trades and retool the existing workforce. The clock is ticking on this coming tsunami of workforce demand. We must be prepared to meet the demand to keep the momentum toward U.S. energy dominance going.

Bristol Hospital to start renovation project
BRISTOL - Bristol Hospital on Monday will begin a project to completely renovate its Emergency Center.
This is expected to be the first of three phases of renovations, which will include an expansion for more space and equipment and a new, 10-bed behavioral health unit. The whole project could cost more than $10 million, hospital officials have said.
During construction, all patients who normally use the Emergency Center entrance on Newell Road to access outpatient services, such as diagnostic services for x-rays and the outpatient lab, will be redirected to the front entrance of the hospital, on Brewster Road. The Brewster Road entrance is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Patients in emergency situations should still use the Emergency Center entrance on Newell Road. Hospital officials stressed that there will be “no interruption in services” during the construction process. Visitors for patients in the Intensive Care Unit can still use the Emergency Center entrance after hours and should use the Brewster road entrance during normal business hours.
Maternity patients should follow instructions from their doctor as to which entrance is appropriate, said Christopher Boyle, hospital spokesman.
Those coming to the hospital for non-emergencies will receive a visitor badge and directions to their destination.
“We apologize for any inconvenience; however this project will ultimately enhance the access to the services of Bristol Hospital,” said Boyle.
According to Boyle, patients requiring diagnostic services will take the elevator to Level C after receiving a visitor badge. There, they will check in at the front desk of the hospital’s newly-renovated Diagnostic Services Department.
Additionally, patients of the physician practices based in the Medical Office Building, at 25 Newell Road, will now have to travel down the hill adjacent to the Emergency Center to the main entrance of the hospital for any required outpatient services.

Howard Street apartment project stalled but still alive
Greg Smith
New London — The city’s development arm has denied a request for a six-month extension to a development agreement with Shipway 221 LLC, the developer who has proposed a 200-unit apartment complex off Howard Street.
The extension was unnecessary, as it turns out. Shipway has seven more months left on a two-year development agreement with the Renaissance City Development Association and until Aug. 31 to get a shovel in the ground.
The RCDA granted Shipway a three-month extension in October, giving the developer until Jan. 23 to fulfill its obligations set forth in a developer approval period that was part of the overall agreement signed with the Tagliatela family in August 2017.
RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis said Shipway updated its construction timeline and business plan and provided confirmation of financing for the project prior to the Jan. 23 deadline.
The Shipway project is stalled while its principals, the Tagliatela family, seek an equity partner. It started marketing the estimated $30 million project through a real estate broker in the fall.
Shipway was touted as the likely first “out of the ground” project in the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan area that was approved by the city in 2000. The MDP covers about 80 acres, including the Fort Trumbull peninsula made notorious because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, that allowed the city to seize land through eminent domain.
Shipway would cover the 5.5-acre site where Hughie’s Restaurant once stood and already has obtained local land-use approvals.
“My concern is time,” Davis said of the prospect the project would start in the coming months.
Davis said Shipway has indicated it still is working to secure a partner. He said he sees hurdles for any new partner that wants to change the design of the project, because that likely would mean it will have to go back for local land-use approvals.
The existing agreement with Shipway also requires the Tagliatelas, owners of Franklin Construction, to remain as the majority partner for the project. A new developer would need to be vetted by the RCDA.
In conjunction with the project, Davis said the RCDA is considering a new request by Shipway to modify the existing land-swap agreement with Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which owns a medical complex across the street.
An initial agreement had L+M trading a piece of land it owns that cuts through the Shipway project, in exchange for the RCDA-owned land adjacent to the L+ M parking lot. Shipway is expected to extend the L+M parking lot, at a cost of about $30,000, as part of the deal.
Under the development agreement, that can’t happen until Shipway closes on the land and pays the RCDA a $129,000 purchase price. Shipway already has paid the RCDA about $39,000, an amount equal to taxes on the assessed value of the land.
Davis said Shipway has asked for the RCDA to convey the two small parcels prior to the closing to allow construction of the parking lot extension. The RCDA’s real estate committee tabled discussion on the matter and will take up the request at a later date.
A representative from Shipway, also known as New London County Real Estate LLC, could not be reached for comment.

Lamont: CT contacted Amazon about possible HQ2 relocation
Joe Cooper
Connecticut's newly reshaped economic-development team has rebooted efforts to lure Amazon's second headquarters away from New York after the e-commerce giant reportedly is reconsidering plans to establish a major presence in the Empire State.
Amazon is reconsidering its plans to open up a new campus in New York City's Long Island City neighborhood after facing backlash from local residents, according to a Washington Post report on Friday.
Hours after the report came out, Gov. Ned Lamont in a Twitter post said the state heard Amazon was re-evaluating its expansion plans days ago, and "mobilized" its new public-private partner, the Partnership to Advance the Connecticut of Tomorrow (PACT), to help Amazon HQ2 find a path to Connecticut. PACT is led by former PepsiCo Chairwoman and CEO Indra Nooyi of Greenwich and former Webster Bank Chairman and CEO Jim Smith.
"The state has already made an outreach to Amazon through its in-state representation, and we are looking forward to expanding the dialogue," the governor said in a succeeding Twitter post.
In November, when Amazon announced it would split its second headquarters between Queens, N.Y., and Arlington, Va., Connecticut officials said the New York location would create a larger, higher-skilled tech workforce to recruit from in the state.
Queens is less than 30 miles from Greenwich and Stamford, and 100-plus miles from Greater Hartford.
Amazon executives, according to unnamed sources, have had discussions recently to rethink the company's plans for New York and consider alternatives, the Washington Post reported.
The company's original plans were for each city to have more than 25,000 workers over time.

St. Mary’s seeks OK for $20 million in upgrades; decision due in April by parent company
MICHAEL PUFFERWATERBURY — Saint Mary’s Hospital is seeking approval from its parent company for roughly $20 million in upgrades to its facilities and grounds in the near future.
The money would pay for a new main entrance to the hospital, expansion of the emergency room, exterior landscaping, facade improvements, creation of more single-occupant in-patient rooms and other upgrades.
Saint Mary’s Hospital President Steven E. Schneider says he anticipates a decision from parent company Trinity Health in April.
“We think there’s a very high likelihood all of these things will be approved,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the grounds improvements mirror recent upgrades in day-to-day procedures meant to improve patient experiences. Service goals are tracked and reported on every shift in every wing, kept on whiteboards fixed to the walls.
Any problems or shortcomings are noted, with plans made to avoid repeat occurrences.
“Without that you are operating on hope and gut feeling,” Schneider said.
Planned upgrades would convert one administration wing into single-patient rooms.
The current main entrance off Franklin Street would be rebuilt at the juncture with Scovill Street. It will be a brighter, more-welcoming, glassed-in entrance – absent the steep steps and ramp visitors now climb to enter the building. The new entrance will be at street level, Schneider said.
“It will be a more modern touch and ease access quite a bit,” Schneider said.
The hospital also plans to upgrades to the facade of its employee parking garage, which is seen prominently by cars passing on Interstate 84.
Under the current facilities plan, the lot which held the former Holiday Inn Express would be paved for parking with islands of trees and grass to give it a “parklike” atmosphere and a better connection to the downtown, Schneider said.
The emergency department would see a “significant” expansion, Schneider said. There will be more room for medical emergencies, as well as more room for patients with mental health issues.
St. Mary’s current facilities plan is part of a large facilities study created for Trinity Health properties.