March 23, 2020

CT Construction Digest Monday March 23, 2020

When working from home isn’t a choice: Manufacturers, construction companies, warehouses and prisons among the employers operating despite coronavirus

Unlike office employees who take their laptops and smart phones home to help tamp down the spread of coronavirus, workers in factories, warehouses, construction sites and prisons must stay put.
Sherine Bailey, a correctional officer at the Carl Robinson Correctional Institute, a medium-security prison in Enfield, said the state Department of Correction is making available plenty of cleaning supplies, and outside volunteers and visitors are restricted.
“At home, we’re stepping up precautions. Coming into work, you’re hoping everyone is on the same page,” said Bailey, who spoke as a member of Local 391 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “At the end of the day, we’re essential staff. We’re needed.”For manufacturers navigating through a pandemic, that puts pressure on workers’ health, the supply chain and even cash flow at small businesses. Meeting deadlines and filling customer orders is a challenge.“Everyone is nervous,” said Jason Jarvis, president of Jarvis Airfoil, a family-owned manufacturer of fan, compressor and turbine blades and vanes for military and commercial jet engines.Interactions between workers at the Portland plant are moved to larger places from small offices to make it harder to transmit the virus, Jarvis said. Such shop floor changes are easier for machine workers who are “naturally distanced from each other,” but it’s more difficult to impose on supervisors and inspectors who work more closely with other employees, he said. In addition, all points that are routinely touched, such as doorknobs and surfaces, are cleaned regularly, and any of the 91 employees who don’t feel well are urged to stay home. Understanding that many employees work paycheck to paycheck, he said accommodations are made to allow use of vacation time to account for time off related to health. Seeing a “great thirst out there for information and guidance,” Eric Brown, vice president for manufacturing policy and outreach at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said 120 manufacturers participated in a conference call Monday to discuss best practices. Participants discussed the need for a “pandemic flu plan administrator,” “pandemic flu plan team,” the effect of “mission-critical system failures” and employee absenteeism, supply chains and other issues related to keeping a business going during a public health emergency. Jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney, among the largest manufacturers in Connecticut, has imposed travel restrictions, self-quarantine procedures, employee social distancing, remote work, flexible schedules, enhanced paid leave and “continuous and comprehensive deep cleaning and disinfecting” of the plant and offices, said Michele Quintaglie, spokeswoman for parent company United Technologies Corp. Construction companies have put similar plans in place, said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, which represents large commercial construction companies. Job site meetings are kept as small as possible or are conducted by phone or videoconferencing, he said. Hand washing stations are being established, and people congregating is discouraged, Shubert said. He’s nervous what the pandemic might do to the industry’s well-being. While service businesses have been devastated by the virus that forced movie theaters, restaurants and other public places to shut, employment in Connecticut’s construction industry was flat before the coronavirus flared up. The industry’s 59,800 workers in January were down from 60,000 in January 2019, according to the state Department of Labor. A spokesman for UPS said workers who exhibit symptoms are asked to seek medical care and to not come to work. The shipper’s large facilities have several shifts, and workers are assigned to work stations that are spread across the facility. Greater distance between workers is characteristic of UPS’s “more highly automated facilities,” he said. A spokeswoman for the Teamsters union, which represents UPS workers, said sorting facilities are “unlike a bar, restaurant or more contained area” that allow for distancing.

Norwich appoints committee for major school renovation project
Claire Bessette             
Norwich — A new school building committee was established this week, but city officials cannot yet say when or how the group will start working to plan for a major building consolidation and renovation project.
The project, deemed a top priority to evaluate, renovate or close some of the city’s 15 aging and costly school buildings, would have to be put to voters in a referendum in a year or two. The new committee is not expected to meet until May, and officials are unsure whether the initial meetings will be in person or by telephone, given the ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 virus and the closure of City Hall.
City Council President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt, a member of the council’s Appointments/Reappointments Committee, said he was pleased with the quality of applicants, especially with the number of new people who have volunteered for the committee.
“We have a lot of new blood,” he said. “It’s nice to see a group that’s not the same old faces. I’m please. The thing that stood out was we had such a good quality group of candidates.”
The council voted unanimously Monday to appoint: Norwich Public Schools teacher Gregory Ballassi; former Alderman Gerald Martin, a master electrician; Sprague school Superintendent William Hull; community member Peter Gauthier and retired U.S. Coast Guard civil engineer Gregory Carabine.
Additionally, City Council members Bettencourt, Derell Wilson and Stacy Gould, Board of Education Chairwoman Heather Romanski and board member Christine Distasio and City Manager John Salomone were appointed as ex-officio members.
The council expects to appoint one more Norwich teacher, as one candidate withdrew from consideration.
Hull said he has lived in Norwich for most of his life and said the school buildings were “tired” years ago when his three children attended.
“I just wanted to give something back,” he said. “I live in Norwich. My kids grew up here. This is important to me.”
In his more than 30 years as a school administrator in various eastern Connecticut districts, Hull has served as an ex-officio member of school building committees and served in districts when major renovation projects were underway.
Hull served as Salem superintendent for 17 years, headed the Lyme-Old Lyme schools for three years and was a principal and assistant superintendent in Montville during a major renovation project for all school buildings. He was superintendent in Putnam for 10 years, including a time when Putnam High School underwent a $36.5 million renovation, he said. Hull started in Sprague in August as a part-time superintendent. He doubled as an interim principal for a time at the start of the school year.
The new school building committee will start with the report and recommendations of the School Facilities Review Committee, which approved a plan last summer that was a modification of a plan rejected by the City Council in May 2017.
The plan calls for renovating as new the John B. Stanton, John Moriarty and Uncas elementary schools and building a fourth new elementary school, all to house preschool through fifth-grade students. The proposed new school building would accommodate 300 to 600 students, preferably in a Greeneville, Laurel Hill or East Side neighborhood.
The Teachers’ Memorial Middle School would be renovated as new for grades six through eight, as would the recently renovated Kelly Middle School.
The two current preschool centers, the Bishop School and Deborah Tenant-Zinewicz School, would be closed and listed for sale. Bishop also houses several school offices and technical departments. Those would move to Samuel Huntington School, which would close as an elementary school and house administrative offices and the Norwich Transition Academy, a vocational program for special education students aged 18 to 21.
The Thomas Mahan Elementary School, located in a prime commercial area off Route 82, would be closed and listed for sale.
The central office building, the historic 1895 former John Mason School at the Norwichtown Green, also would be closed and listed for sale. The Hickory Street School, which houses the Norwich Transition Academy, also would be listed for sale.

State Pier occupants granted 120-day extension to stay in New London
Greg Smith           
New London — State Pier operator Gateway has extended the deadline for port tenants to move out, giving commercial fishermen and a major local road salt distributor an extra four months to find a new home.
The extension is not coronavirus related, rather the result of negotiations among Gateway, the Connecticut Port Authority and tenants who were expecting to be displaced March 31 to accommodate the offshore wind industry. Construction activity associated with a $157 million planned overhaul of the port is expected to begin later this year as it converts into a wind turbine staging area for joint partners Ørsted and Eversource.
Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris said while pre-construction activity at the pier still is expected to start soon, the extension was made possible in part because of the ongoing work by the construction company Skanska, which is using the pier as a staging area for work across the river at Electric Boat in Groton.
Skanska, in a joint venture with Trevcon II, is performing work as part of EB’s expansion to accommodate assembly of ballistic missile submarines. Skanska, in an October news release, said the contract is worth $89 million. Kooris said Skanska, while it is at the pier, is able to cover the basic costs of keeping the facility open, expenses such as security and insurance.
Companies occupying State Pier, including Gateway, had planned to leave the site by March 31. The agreement between the Connecticut Port Authority and Ørsted-Eversource has halted all incoming cargo ships and the ability for Gateway to recoup costs of running the pier.
“We wanted first and foremost to figure out if there was a way to accommodate them further,” Kooris said.
Gateway President Jim Dillman said DRVN Enterprises, two commercial fishermen working off CV Pier and Blakeslee Construction all will have 120 days beyond the original March 31 deadline.
While there is a four-month extension, Kooris said all parties are clear that any further extensions are unlikely. Skanska's time at the pier also was extended through the end of July.
Chris Bachant, president of Carpenters Local 326, has extended membership with his union and work for all of the eight full-time longshoremen, members of the International Longshoremen’s Association 1411, working at the pier. There will be work while construction at the pier, expected to last two years, is ongoing. The 45 part-time longshoremen have either found other work or are looking for jobs.
DRVN still has a massive pile of salt, an estimated 95,000 tons, on site, which eventually will have to be moved. DRVN President Steve Farrelly said his company continues to look for a suitable alternative site.
“We are diligently looking for locations but the process for zoning and planning and any other permitting required in all towns for our use has slowed down dramatically due to the necessary precautionary (measures) being taken to date due to COVID-19 pandemic,” Farrelly said in an email.
Dillman and Farrelly would not confirm whether there is an existing agreement between their two companies that would allow Gateway to transfer the salt to its own operation in New Haven. Dillman said business with customers is private and covered by nondisclosure agreements.
Mayor Michael Passero said he has been working to find out if moving the fishing boats to Fisherman’s Pier, on the city’s waterfront, is feasible. He said the new extension buys some more time to work out those details.
“We certainly need more time because the city does not want to lose these commercial businesses and we are still actively working to find a solution so that they can remain in New London preferably, but most importantly a place for them to stay in business,” he said.
Kooris said while permitting is not yet in place for the full pier redevelopment project, some of the work expected to be accomplished in the coming months includes excavation, building demolition, test borings and other site preparation work.