Meriden Made

Aug 29

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Getting there…

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Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Isn’t that beautiful?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty close look at the demise of this building. Of course, I’m saying that with a ton of sarcasm.

Truth is, the building has a great story. It was a thriving business for such a long period of time. It was a hardware store that met its match shortly after I arrived at the Record-Journal.

The owner could no longer run the operation and the decision was to close it. I remember covering the closing and the auctioning off of every last item that was inside. I remember navigating through the building and watching as boxes of nails, saws, hammers, shelves, signage, everything was sold off.

I watched as the building deteriorated. I followed as the city began the process of buying it. I went in the building when the Fire Department was practicing and training in there.

It continued to deteriorate, but finally, it seems, the building is coming down. And to backtrack, I saw the building start to be taken apart and then watched it stop.

Being next door to the former Church and Morse building, the Record-Journal got a close look at this. As anyone would agree, it’s unfortunate a business had to fold. The building wasn’t in bad shape, especially when compared to the adjoining buildings. The one furthest up South Colony Street was the worst, I’m told. I never confirmed it, but was told if the section ever caught fire the Fire Department likely wouldn’t be going inside that building to put out the flames.

Once demolition takes place and the bridge behind the building is fixed, there are no real plans for what happens to the parcel. What I do know is some of the private developers interested in the city seemed interested in that property. Logically, it make sense for parking if the parking lot behind the RJ building is built upon.

Fun fact: I started this blog post on Wednesday. I saved it. And then forgot about finishing it. so here I am on Friday writing it up.

Still, no demolition has taken place. But when it is, it will be captured on film from the Record-Journal building. We set up a camera to capture it and then it’ll be turned into a time-lapse. We are doing something similar with the Hub. When transformation happens, it’s important to document it one way or another.

Aug 25

Picking Downtown’s Future

Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Whenever I write a story about this situation, I never know if people fully get it. My thought process is based on the feedback when the stories are posted to various Facebook pages.

Meriden has been down this road before. They take empty buildings and vacant parcels and try to find a developer that can come in and rehab them or redevelop the property. I walked through the building above, I’ve walked through the old hospital, I see Factory H, I work across from the Hub and I work in the Record-Journal building. I know the properties. I know what condition they are in. I’m not an expert. But it’s clear there are challenges no matter what.

So I get the concern. I know why people are worried. I have read countless articles about people who had grand plans for most of these sites only to have them fall through.

So what has changed?

For one, every article about 116 Cook, the Hub and the hospital - they all seemed as if they were passed off to the first person interested. How much research was done prior, I’m not sure. But if you had a plan or an idea, you can have that property.

116 Cook hasn’t improved. The Hub is undergoing redevelopment paid for by the state and federal government because nobody else could take the project on. The hospital owner fell wayyyy behind on taxes and Factory H was a mess for a longtime. And here in the Record-Journal building, it’s just another city-owned building. The business and industry changed and we have a building too big for the company.

Back to my point.

People are either hesitant to believe there is interest, don’t understand the interest or don’t want the interest in the form it’s coming.

Hesitant

The hesitation comes from the reasons listed above. Why should people believe after years of projects being put off? Why should people care that yet another group of people have some interest. The city has been down this path before, isn’t this the same thing?

Not quite. Yes, it is a developer showing interest. This time, however, there are multiple developers. And they all have qualifications. They all have money and financial backing. And they are all committed.

This isn’t one person, it’s a team of people. They have the financial wherewithal to make something happen. At least, that’s what their qualifications tell me.

Another thing: the developers submitted their qualifications. City officials are being incredibly hesitant to hand these properties off. Some people want these to be handed off ASAP. But it’s in City Manager Larry Kendzior’s nature to go through a careful, thoughtful consideration process. He is at the helm and my guess is that is what is going on here.

If you clicked the link at the top, you’d know a first round of interviews for four firms has been completed. In the end, it’s my guess that two firms will be selected across the five major properties. I have a guess as to which two firms will be selected and which properties they will have. But now is not the time for that. There is still a process to be followed. More in-depth plans will be submitted. More in-depth interviews will happen. And then, at some point, a selection will happen. So I don’t have all of the facts, I just know what can be pieced together through talking to city officials, the firms and reading through their submissions.

Don’t Know

There is likely a group of people who just don’t understand what’s going on. And I get that. I understand. This is a complicated process - as are most governmental processes - I’m just working my way through this.

In one way or another, the city acquired these five properties. Purchase, auction, foreclosure, whatever…Now they have to do something with them. It’s not in the city’s best interest to own property. I know that, the public knows that and they know that. Ideally, a private owner owns them and does something productive with them. That was not the case with all of them.

The city’s purchase does a few things. It erases any unpaid taxes. It gets them out of the hands of owners who can’t handle the buildings. It (in the Record-Journal’s case) helps out a business who needs it and keeps them in the downtown where city officials are working to revive the area. It controls the process as things move forward. And it opens up doors for funding to help with environmental remediation/demolition/etc.

Think of what the city did as an advertisement. It posted something in the newspaper (and elsewhere) asking for responses. It said “show us what you’ve done, we want to work with you and we want your help.” So some companies respond, show their work, look through the buildings and interview. They see potential.

The city will review, then ask for specific projects. So the companies go back, draw up their best plans, do some studies on the area and then respond. Then city staff will select which firms they want for specific projects based on what was presented and submitted.

The properties likely won’t be handed off without question from there. Some contract will be worked out. Plans will have to be fine tuned, the city will continue applying for state and federal funds, etc. in order to help with the redevelopment.

But what you’re looking at is a real plan to redevelop these properties. Something much more firm than “I think this would look nice as a medical office building,” which is quite literally what got the buildings off in the past. Not that the buildings were handed from the city to private owners - it was typically private to private - but people were reassured it was a possibility with these grand schemes that never panned out in most cases.

No interest

Those who have done their homework, know what this will lead to and many don’t like it. Most of these buildings will have low income housing units in them. They won’t entirely be low income units, but there will be some.

There are 140 units at Mills. In order to take Mills down, you need to replace all 140. Not wanting them all to be in the exact same location, they will be spread out throughout the downtown. About 25 are going to the 24 Colony St. project. The building there will house people of all different incomes, including 7 market rate housing units.

The goal for the rest of the downtown developments is to get more market rate than just 10% of the building (like 24 Colony).

Anything but market rate is not good enough for some people though. I agree, it would be nice to get 100% market rate units in downtown Meriden, which is what Mayor Manny Santos has made a push for.

I’m not sure what it will take. The city hasn’t seen it yet. I’m not sure it will. It certainly would take more business in the city and that’s something still lacking.

But through different funding sources, these private companies can have an easier time building or rehabbing these city-owned buildings. They might even get a tax break when it’s completed. So they use the public funding they are eligible for through low income housing and figure out the rest of the cost.

You can’t blame people for wanting luxurious, market rate rental units. Everybody wants a nice place to live and a thriving downtown. Certainly people will disposable income would bring just that. It’s just a matter of how that happens.

Now that I’ve explained all that - I just wanted to make something clear. I cover each step, whether it’s understood or not, because it’s an important time in the city’s history. Every big project is a story. It can either boom or bust, flop or succeed. Or do much of nothing and remain what it is. Either way, I read old stories and see a lot of nothing. Projects that never occurred and that the time, that was important. It creates a record at the very least. We will see what this record shows.

Aug 22

Disappearing Brooks

Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

You can Google them. You can look for them on Google Maps. You can even physically go out and look for them. Chances are, you’re going to struggle to find Jordan and Clark brooks.

Still, these two brooks flow through densely populated areas of Meriden. Like Harbor Brook, they spend a lot of time underground. Even more so than Harbor Brook, really.

But as I wrote and researched more and more about Harbor Brook and the city alleviates the brook’s flooding issues, I remained curious about these two other brooks.

The average person in Meriden has no idea they exist. If they do, they likely won’t find them.

Jordan Brook

Thankfully there are some people with great knowledge of these brooks and one of those people is Dwight Needels. Dwight went out with GPS equipment and tracked down these brooks from starting point to end point.

This look above likely means nothing to you. So let me help. The brooks that goes diagonal from the bottom left to the upper right corner is Harbor Brook. The brook that runs mostly parallel to Colony Street in the light blue is Clark Brook. (Light blue means underground, dark is above.) And the brook with an end point near the intersection of Broad and East Main streets is Jordan Brook.

The more you know…

Dwight is responsible for sending me that and for mapping it. So I use the map with his permission.

As you can see, Jordan barely runs above ground at any point. I sent a photographer out to look for it. He couldn’t find it.

The brook runs an interesting path, starting underneath the parking lot of Stop and Shop. When the supermarket was built it had to get inland wetlands approval, which is interesting because it doesn’t strike you as a wetland. But it is.

The brook has a fascinating story. It runs down a long, but steep slope between Broad Street and Pratt Street. You can imagine how much water comes gushing down in a rain storm. It actually used to be wider and it had a waterfall, but that was later filled in.

Jordan Brook runs underneath a house at the corner of Liberty and Hobart streets and then heads back down the slope. Interestingly enough, the city is selling the property behind the house to the house’s owner.

There used to be a water tower on the property. The map above dates back to 1868, but there is actually a better view of the brook on it than anything you can find today.

It’s a fascinating map for plenty of other reasons, but it gives you a better idea where the brooks run.

Jordan Brook gets its name from a church. The church would perform baptisms in the brook and it was named Jordan Brook after the Jordan River where Jesus was once baptized.

Clark Brook

Dwight knew a little less about Clark Brook, but things are a little clearer when it comes to Clark.

It remains above ground for longer stretches. It runs along the railroad tracks and Colony Street, which is a well-traveled area.

Like Jordan, the brook stretches into the Hub. When the project at the Hub is finished, people will have a better idea they actually exist.

The plan is to install headwalls on each side of Harbor Brook. The brooks will flow into Harbor Brook and for the first time in decades, people may have an idea they exist.

It won’t be your basic cement, either. There will be some actual design to make it look nicer.

Until then, you’ll just have to go out and look for the brooks yourself.

Aug 20

116 Cook

I realize this is becoming a habit, but here is my latest tour of an empty building/work site: 116 Cook Ave.

A private development firm - POKO Partners - was doing a walk-through of the building a couple of weeks ago and Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski invited me to come along. I took her up on the offer since 1. I was interested in the interested group and 2. I never went to this building.

Here’s how the tour went.

I was never in this building before. Not that I remember anyway. My wife had been at some point and when she looked through my photos, instantly remembered the inside, the ramp and the way it looked back then being the same as now.

I was in the old hospital many many years ago when I broke my leg. I remember the foyer of the building, but because I was only a few years old, didn’t actual recall it. When I stepped into it a few months ago for the first time in 20+ years, it looked almost the same and the memory came back.

But this building was different because I don’t remember ever being in here. It closed in 2000, but you can read more about the history here.

The place was trashed, as you can see. Actually the entrance was much better than most of the building. Ceiling panels were missing everywhere though. There are two reasons: they drop after a certain amount of time if the building isn’t properly heated or air conditioned and if people are ripping out copper wiring.

In this case, it was clearly both. As you can see, the wall is missing in this photo. I believe I took this on the 2nd floor.

We were met by some inviting graffiti.

Some heavy, insightful stuff right there.

And then we went into a room that smelled like urine. It was disgusting. It was also dark, so there are no images.

But you work your way toward the back of the building and we had two choices: left or right. The problem was that left was impossible to get through. There was too much debris.

Right it was.

There was plenty of debris this way, for the record. This area of the building was damaged by a fire that was in Factory H years ago. The buildings were connected through this back hallways. Later it was closed off and this became a medical office building. It was actually a very good idea at the time, but when the hospital was moved, this building fell by the wayside - clearly.

The people with POKO were very nice and I appreciated them letting me go along. They didn’t have to especially since they were inspecting a building they could be looking to invest millions of dollars into. Obviously they talked about some things that they asked me not to write about as a way to not tip their hand to other private investors. These sorts of agreements aren’t unusual in reporting, but they also commented as much as I asked them to on the situation and they were in agreement to that. For what it’s worth, they do seem to be interested in the property and it is clear the property is still in good condition from a structural standpoint.

From an interior standpoint, it could use a few improvements.

It’s always interesting walking through these buildings. You don’t really know what to anticipate. It could be bad, it could be OK. In this case, I thought it was in worse shape than what I expected.

It was clear vagrants and vandals were there at some point. Maybe some homeless people made this their shelter at some point. You never really know when the last time was that they were there. And you never know if they are still there.

There was plenty of light in the building. Other than the stairwells, flashlights really weren’t needed. That’s a big difference from the old hospital where you needed them everywhere you went practically.

It was a strange building though, as they usually are. It was seemingly standing in time, but with the damage all over. It was already an outdated interior, so it gives off the impression it is even older. The fact that it was a medical office building just makes it a little creepier.

We only went on the first three (of 4) floors. And even the third was just a quick peek.

There were a few little kitchen areas like this. And there was a lot of damage laying around like this on the floor:

I’m not sure what will become of this building. People seem to think they can make it work by leaving the building up and rehabbing it. Then again, it was built in the 1800s. If I was the owner, my head says rehab it because demolishing might be more expensive, but my gut says to knock it down and combine it with the Factory H parcel.

And the last photo is presented without comment other than it was found in the main entrance of the building. Politicians.

Aug 19

Again?

This is getting old. Fast.

Actually, it’s past that point.

As you may have read, the City Council met last night to discuss the lawsuit against Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn. If you missed it, here you go.

It’s tough to make this long story short, but the minority party councilors put together a resolution to repeal a decision to have the city fund Quinn’s side of the lawsuit. It failed.

But this thing has been going on for eight months. And each step along the way is nothing but political. It’s a game, but with real tax dollars attached.

The Democrats will go down fighting in this one and contend, no matter what, that the City Council is responsible for appointing the corporation counsel. The mayor will always oppose that as will most of the minority party councilors.

Things changed with a Superior Court judge ruled against Quinn and against what the city has been practicing for 20-plus years. Public opinion took a little bit of a turn. Many people began thinking “maybe the mayor was right all along.” Either way, a decision is a decision.

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent and people seemed comfortable with letting that go. The money was spent, why lose more for a job they could really care less about?

The Democrats wanted to defend Quinn. They lost. Quinn agreed to fund it himself with the help of his law firm for the sake of fighting it. Mike doesn’t need the money - I think that’s clear. He seems to be fighting this because he believes it’s right. And again, he was comfortable fighting this on his own.

The Democrats, however, insisted on fighting this one with a city-hired attorney. And that’s where you lose some of the public. Now the lawsuit is reaching the six figure level. To anybody, that’s a lot of money. And it has added up quickly.

Last night’s meeting was to be expected. Majority party vs. the minority party. No real new arguments and nobody really switching sides. Three councilors not present meant fewer people would speak on the issue, but that’s the only major difference they made.

Truth is, this Supreme Court hearing and a decision cannot come soon enough for the Democrats. Or the people paying taxes. Or even the minority party for that matter. The minority parties, in backing the mayor, look good on this whole thing. But they also  want to see this all come to an end to stop paying for the lawsuit, I’m sure.

Either way, more than a month to go and who knows how much longer after that. Maybe it won’t come up at the City Council anymore. Maybe it will. But don’t expect much new on it.

Aug 18

As Good as Gone

Image courtesy of Derek Torrellas l Record-Journal

Sorry folks, Frontera is as good as gone.

Let’s Recap

I was talking with local attorney Dennis Ceneviva a few weeks back. Off the top of my head, I’m not even sure why I called him or what for. But he’s the guy to talk to about site plans and land use and things like that in Meriden if you aren’t talking to a city-hired person. He also knows a lot of people and a lot of history, but we will save that part for another day.

He mentioned Frontera would be closing. I didn’t believe him at first, but sure enough, it was.

The business opened maybe a year and a half ago. In the last 6-8 months, or so, it seemed to be doing pretty well. Cars were there. People couldn’t stop raving about it on the Meriden Facebook forums and even word of mouth was spreading on it.

So what went wrong?

According to Dennis, they weren’t paying their rent. Or had a backlog of it. Either way, they weren’t up-to-date and an the eviction process was started back in May.

On the first day of reporting, I could, at the very least, report there was a site plan submitted for the property. I couldn’t get a hold of the owner or the manager to confirm the restaurant was closing. You always report what you know and what can be confirmed though and it wasn’t hard to confirm a site plan was submitted to demolish the building and put in an Advance Auto Parts.

City Planner Dominick Caruso seemed not too happy by the proposal. And why should he be excited? I business doing well being shut down and a restaurant no less. Meriden already has a shortage of restaurants and one less is a kick in the you know where.

So I Reported The Facts…

And the feedback was crazy. Absolutely crazy. I’m not sure I ever saw this before.

There was a weird mixture of people who were upset and in denial and just P/O’d. Hundreds of comments flooded the story and various Facebook groups. People were angry with the city, angry with the restaurant, angry with me. Just angry to be angry.

How could they be closing? How could they be leaving for somewhere else? How could the city let this happen? Why is the city pushing them out? Why isn’t the RJ reporting this right? The RJ got this totally wrong.

I’ll stand by my reporting until the end on this one.

And then…

I wrote a second story. I spoke with Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski about it. She went over to the restaurant and spoke with the manager. He said he was staying. They said they were fighting it.

I went over. He said the same thing.

But there was a problem: He was just the manager, not the owner. The owner apparently already signed a lease termination agreement. He was ready to go months before. He planned to move the business and may not have been too upfront about it with his employees. I’m also told he was surprised when he found out the manager took it upon himself to have the building’s exterior repainted.

What’s Next?

Frontera isn’t staying in this location and I’m told they aren’t staying in Meriden. It went before the Planning Commission last week and people were definitely disappointed to confirm the news.

There was a nice little event held last Friday there where people tried to drum up support for Frontera. I’m told workers continue to tell patrons they intend to fight and to stay. I’m also told it won’t be long before the business is gone.

It would be nice to keep the business in Meriden. As nice as it sounds, I’m not sure it will happen. There are limited spaces for restaurants to move right into. And soon there could be one less.

Aug 06

A look at Platt

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

I realized shortly after my tour of Platt High School last week that I forgot to take an exterior photo with my iPhone. So above is Dave Zajac’s. The rest of the photos are from me.

But anyway, just like Maloney (which can be viewed in the previous post), a group of RJ-ers went on a tour of Platt HS last week. The $111.8 million project is moving along and the new section could be opened by the middle of next month.

Walking through you’d be surprised the building is close to being finished. There’s clearly a lot of work to be done, but the major aspects - the walls, electrical/mechanical systems, the building, really - are all complete.

Walking down the halls you get a lot of what is in the picture above. Interior work being done. Doors and furniture wrapped in plastic. In one room a guy is putting lockers together one by one. In another room they are putting together other furniture. In others it’s ready when the workers are ready.

The Platt and Maloney phases are very different. Maloney is essentially a new building. Platt required some shifting around of the music department during the year so workers could renovate the area and do some new construction.

New construction they did.

The building looks different. I was lost walking through there and I have some experience in the building. It really was like a new world.

The classrooms are what you’d expect. About the same size as the current school, but updated. New furniture. There will be new equipment. The building will function better. Etc.

The science classrooms are more interesting than the others. Math, science, social studies - those classrooms are essentially all the same. Science, picture above and below, has some equipment installed.


Much of the work going on right now is in the school’s freshman academy. As a means to ease students from middle to high school, freshmen academies will be introduced. It will essentially be an area of the school for freshmen to take their core academic classrooms. They will be integrated with the upperclassmen when on their way to classes like gym or on their way to the cafeteria.

This will be one of the entrances into the “new” area. I took a picture and didn’t think about it until I looked again, but it surprised me. There’s a lot of glass in this door.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, you’d just assume there would be less glass at the schools. Even the front door of the school, which is 50+ years old, has less glass. I think most would agree that if someone wants to get in, they will find their way in. But there is plenty of glass in these doors.

Above is the choral room. Both the choral and band rooms have their own rooms like the old school and both are being worked on. I don’t really remember being in the old Platt choral room although I know I was. I can’t say how different or similar it is, but if you compare it to Maloney, which I’ve been in, it’s similar. Big, open room with the side rooms.

There are more than 100 people working on the Platt site. The number would surprise you, until you start walking in and out of rooms. Two people here, one there, a few in another area, a couple down the hall.
 It’s interesting to see where people are and get an idea what the day is like. Some days you’re working near somebody, another day you’re in a section of the building by yourself.

I’ll give you a series of photos next of the library or media center. It’s its own area. From the outside, it’s a prominent area and that’s been the idea. They wanted to put something clearly visible at the major intersection, which I think they accomplished. On the outside, it looks like the photo above. From the inside, it looks like this…

The media center is an interesting area to be in. It extends 30 feet over the first level, and in a dumbed down explanation, there is basically a support system to make sure the section doesn’t collapse. When you’re walking on it though, it feels like you’re walking in a different space. You’re surrounded by the outdoors and walking out from the building.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Grove said the plan is to put in computers and comfortable furniture to give the room the feel of a college campus.

Back on the outside of the building, this is kind of interesting. All of what is in yellow is a temporary wall. That section will eventually extend to another portion of the building, which hasn’t been built yet.

Inside, you run into a handful of temporary walls. In some cases, like this one, they extend to open space. In others, they are just a barrier between the new and old building.

To the rear of the building near the track, work has started up, as well. The area outlined by the fence will be renovated. There is pink paint that outlines where a new section of the building will extend to. It is shaped similar to the fence and will be the cafeteria area.

And also ongoing in the pool area. It is supposed to be ready for November, but so far most of the work done is the removal of the tile and the replacement of the pool system. Rather than a chlorine pool, it will be treated with saline.

Not pictured but interesting was the number of mechanical rooms or rooms where electrical, HVAC, etc equipment is housed. There are a number of them both on the main level and in the basement of the school.

The project is scheduled to be completed a few years from now, but those new classrooms should be up and running in the next few weeks.

Aug 05

A Look at Maloney

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

Last week seemed like one tour of a construction site after another. It started with an impromptu hour-long tour of the Hub. Then a group of RJ staffers toured Platt for about an hour the following morning and Maloney was right after that. I’ll save Platt for another day.

Today we discuss Maloney.

There’s such a significant difference between Maloney and Platt and these projects. Platt you drive by and you have to see what’s going on. Maloney you drive by and it’s like “Hey, what’s going on back there?”

You just can’t see what is happening at Maloney. You’d think you can see a 3-4 story building behind the 2-story Maloney school, but you can’t. The new section that stands three stories and four in some areas is just low enough that it’s not obvious.

Not too long from now demolition will occur and things will change.

As you walk toward the building, the first thing that strikes you is how large the building is. Three stories in one building doesn’t translate the same way to the old building. The ceilings are higher so the stories are larger.

Then you notice the glass. There’s a lot of it. And there’s a lot at the old building, but you see terrible blinds everywhere and it’s just not appealing. It’s old, though it still serves its purpose.

At Platt, there is natural light in the classrooms, but it’s not too much. The windows are slightly smaller.

At Maloney, they are much larger but not as much light as you’d expect. The solution was simple, sun shades were installed and they really block out more light than you’d ever expect.

Inside the classrooms thee was light. Enough natural light that electricity is not up and running yet, but things are still bright enough to see. Karrie Kratz explained it, saying you want enough natural light in the building to see, but not too much that it’s making the building too hot and the AC has to be cranked up. Well, she said that in a much more intelligent way with the word ‘sustainable’ used once or twice.

At Platt (and maybe at Maloney) the lights also naturally dim themselves based on the light from outside. So that’s cool.

The hallway in the new area is interesting. It’s curved. Obviously the building is curved, so the hallway being curved makes sense. At the old school, you could essentially see from the cafeteria all the way through the entire school. This is just a different feature. The renovated old section will have long hallways too, I just found this interesting.

Inside and outside, everything looks like a construction site. Inside there are is just equipment all over. Inside is pretty much the same thing.

Also to be noted, most of the classrooms are similar so you see the same thing pretty often. Some are just further along than others.

This will be a science classroom. It’s not too far along from the appearance, but utilities are being installed for science experiments and such.

One thing Maloney has is a nice view. This is from a stairwell on the third floor. You can look out and see the football field. We didn’t hit an classrooms on the other side of the building, but now I wish we did. If you are on the other side, you can look out and see the baseball field. Beyond that though is the highway and then the Hanging Hills.

That thing sticking out of the building at the bottom of the picture (that is outside the glass) is a sunscreen. They look fairly normal, but do quite a bit as far as blocking out light, apparently.

Beyond that you can see where work is going on. You can also see a number of boulders. Interestingly enough, the boulders came from somebody’s backyard. The backyard was part of the property purchase the city made for the project. They began excavating the site and began pulling this out one by one.

The boulders will be re-used as part of a rain garden that will be between the new and old buildings. Over the rain garden will be a bridge connecting the second floor of the building to the ground level floor of the old building that will run straight across. Then there will be a second level of the bridge connecting the third floor to the old building’s second floor. The second level of the bridge will have a slight slope because of grading issues.

Again, this is just a closer look at the building. It’s hard to argue the appearance because it does look nice. Plenty of people will argue it’s also part of a project worth $107.5 million - so keep that in mind.

This section is scheduled to open in November. The whole school will take a few more years. When this opens, almost all of the academic classrooms will be moved to the new section so demolition, construction and renovation can happen on the rest of the building.

Tomorrow, time pending, I’ll try to get to the Platt blog. In the mean time, here’s the story.

Aug 04

Continuing the Hub

The sooner they change the name of the Hub, the better. Then I can stop calling it the Hub and move on to the long-term name and not confuse people 10 years from now.

Now that that’s off my chest, I took a tour of the Hub last week with Public Works Director Bob Bass. Bob, photographer Dave Zajac and I walked around the site and Bob told us a lot about what’s going on.

You can read about all of that here.

I’ve heard it said quite a few times, but you really don’t understand how big of a site the 14-acre property is until you’re standing on it. It took us almost an hour to walk around, obviously stopping to chat from time to time.

The picture at the top is somewhat what the channel will look like. Right now Harbor Brook flows through the property underground. It will be unearthed and moved slightly eastward. The water pictured is just rainwater that was collected.

When you’re standing on the site, one of the first things you’ll notice is how much lower you are standing than the street level. Looking south in the picture below, we were probably 5 or six feet below the street and there was still a ways to go. From the street, it’s much harder to tell.

Dave always seems to enjoy these assignment. It gets us outdoors and on a work site and city staff is always pretty good about letting us go where we want for photos.

There are piles of dirt around the site. All over. Obviously excavation is part of the process, but a lot of dirt will be re-used.

With years of history on the property, there’s concrete and brick and rocks, and … the list goes on. It’s really endless what has been found. Glass, piping, you name it…

The soil is sent through a sifter and essentially cleaned out. It really is like a giant sandbox from when you were a kid and sifted out the little rocks and things.

You can see in the above shot the difference in the soil once it’s been run through a sifter. Also, you can see Bob standing on the concrete culvert that the brook runs through.

Some of the piles are smaller, some are enormous. The one pictured below is huge and sits right in the middle of the site.We could see brick and concrete, brownstone, wood, pieces of metal - all of which was just sticking out and piled high.

I remember the day contracting companies were being told about the project and a city staff member said they were unsure what was underground. It could be anything. And that was the case. They dug up a headstone at one point.

The next picture wasn’t something found underground. It’s actually a sample of what will be used on the site for bridges and for the culverts that you will see on the site.

The soil on the site was contaminated. The stuff moved off anyways. The worst of it was hauled into Canada for disposal.

Plenty will remain as they continue to grade the site and get it ready to look like a park. It’s expected to be completed around this time next year.

Aug 01

The Park News

Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

I had to smirk when I saw this photo. The Parks and Rec Dept. is installing a new swing set at Carroll Park. The park is at the corner of Bee Street and Baldwin Avenue.

This was a popular park for me when I was much younger. My grandparents used to live down the street on Bee Street and the park was within walking distance.

But once incident will always stand out - although there was a time I got a pretty good gash in my knee while walking to that park.

No, what I will always remember is the much bigger injury. A broken leg.

I was just 2 years old, almost 3, and my dad took me to the park. I was on the swings and he was pushing me. But rather than from the back, he was pushing me at my feet. Even though I was only 2, I’ve hung onto this memory pretty well.

The next thing I knew I was flying through the air. I think I got scared because I was too high and let go. When I let go I went backwards. I came crashing down and knew something was wrong. I cried.

I remember my dad putting me in his truck with my right leg off to the side. I really couldn’t move it and I remember it sagging.

We went over to my grandmother’s house. She was a nurse. I remember laying there and I remember my great grandmother being there. I have very few memories of her because she died when I was young, but I remember her there.

We went to the hospital and at some point a doctor confirmed it was broken. I only remember flashes, but I’ve been told I was put to sleep because I was freaking out so much. Considering I wasn’t crying most of the time after the break, I’m guessing I was just scared and not actually in pain.

They put a cast on my leg and that was that. My mom tells me I had to learn to walk again. I vaguely remember going to physical therapy. I remember bringing my Ninja Turtles in the “bath tub” at the old hospital.

My sister was born just a few weeks prior to the injury, so I’m sure this was a ton of fun for my parents - a baby and a kid who was about to turn 3 who couldn’t walk or do much of anything.

My leg is better now, obviously. I’ve only had a few injuries since then, but nothing quite as bad. I broke my hand at Columbus Park five years ago. Six years ago - on this day no less - I chipped a good portion of my front left tooth at the YMCA Outdoor Center. I’ve sprained toes, had black eyes, and at one point bit a giant gash into my tongue that is still there.

But the leg will always stick out to me. And I will always push my sons from behind on swings because of that. And probably never bring them to Carroll Park.

In other park news

It was announced Hubbard Park’s gate will be opened later for those wanting to drive up to the castle.

People are really excited for this and I’m not surprised. They should be. People have been asking for this for years.

Need proof?

I wrote the story. It was shared on our Facebook page. Then, 259 Liked it. 116 people shared it. Sometimes our stories don’t get shared. Not once. Other times it’s 5, 10, 15 maybe. But 116 is a lot. A real lot.

People love the castle. They love the view. They love the drive or walk up. And they should. It’s something special and unique about the city.

I don’t know why they close the gate for 4:45 pm. It doesn’t make much sense during the summer when the sun is still out. I think long term this will be changed. If you get out of work at 5, you can’t get to the castle after work during the week. Even getting out at 4 is cutting it pretty close.

I’m sure the early closing had to do with vandalism at some point. And dinner being at 5 p.m. But times have changed and I think it makes sense to leave it open. People love the castle, so why not let them have it for a longer period of time?

Jul 29

The urban deer

Strangest thing. OK, there are plenty things stranger, but I felt like I had to share this. And I apologize for the lateness - just some craziness lately.

Last Thursday, July 24, I was driving home from Columbus Field. I had a softball game that night - we lost btw - and I started heading home. It was a little after 10 p.m. and things were pretty quiet in the city as they usually are around that hour.

Columbus to my neighborhood on the south-central area of the city is no easy task. There are a lot of options, none of which are quick. Some nights I take 691 to 15, but that night I took an alternative route.

I drove passed the RJ and went down Crown like I was going home from work. I’ve done this plenty of times. Often, you get people walking in the street, a narrowed road because cars are parked on both sides, and you generally have to just be careful.

Having been ticketed on the street in the past, I tend to drive slowly. I’m traveling south and I begin approaching the Curtis Home area. You go up a small hill and then down slightly. In the distance I saw a figure moving slowly. A dog? Probably.

Nope.

It was a deer. When I say slow, I mean taking its time. I was more anxious to see it than to take a picture. I didn’t want to startle it, but there it was. In the middle of Crown Street. The inner city area, no less.

I’m looking at Google Maps and really can’t figure this one out.

There’s not a ton of woods in the area. Just slim sections. It would had to have crossed plenty of other streets along the way.

I get it. Deer exist. They walk through nature. People hate that new developments take up their natural habitat. But there are no new developments in the area. This deer was just casually walking across the middle of the city.

Now people are going to read what I just wrote and think 1. why did I just read this or 2. This is really interesting. I’m writing it for those who think #2. I’ve thought about the deer every day though for whatever reason. I was pissed off. My team had just lost and maybe just lost a chance at 1st place for the regular season - something I wanted desperately. Then along comes this deer. I am the only one who saw it on Crown Street. Just walking down the street, across Crown and into a backyard. What are the chances?

I’m not sure. But simple crazy things like this are what make you stop sometimes and realize there might be something more interesting than that softball game. Or it might not be as important as this deer finding its way home.

I am terrible at estimates. I don’t know how big it is. I assumed it was a huge dog only because I never expected it to be a deer. It looked like an adult though. My parents used to get them from time to time in their yard as they live in a somewhat wooded area along Route 15. So I know about how big they are in size and what a baby and adult look like.

It was odd though and something I’ll probably think about for a while headed down Crown Street. When you drive the same street every day you remember things - where I got that ticket, where those two men were shot two years ago, where that person was hit by a car a few years back…etc. It’s nice this memory will be a positive one.

Jul 22

The unaffiliated

I wasn’t surprised to see City Councilor Kevin Scarpati become unaffiliated. The former Republican made the change Friday and it took effect for Monday’s council meeting.

Many weren’t surprised. Some questioned whether it would ever happen.

Things seemed to be sailing smoothly during Scarpati’s first two years on the council. The change of Manny Santos as mayor and councilor Lenny Rich did shake things up in the city though. Scarpati wasn’t completely on board with things at that first council meeting and things have been shaky ever since.

I could rattle off a list of things that irked some committee members. And sometimes it irks a few, sometimes it’s a lot. But if it happens enough, people start getting more and more upset. That was probably the case here.

A vote here, the change of the vote, another vote that upsets the minority party members and it got frustrating. People write in to support Scarpati on a daily basis and they write in not a fan of him on a daily basis. People spoke with him before the City Council meeting last night to say he did a noble thing and others question his vote. He is clearly sick of having to hear all of it though and doesn’t want the spotlight and what comes with that right now.

I’ll clarify. Kevin welcomes the limelight. He sings, he acts, he coaches, he’s involved with politics. But this isn’t the spotlight he wants right now - caught between the two caucuses whether it is intentional or not.

Whether or not it crossed his mind, jumping straight to the Democrats would just put him out there looking like a traitor. Staying on the RTC opens him up to continued bashing from some members of his own party. It isn’t everybody upset with him, however. I spoke with Liz Whitney yesterday who seemed disappointed in the decision, but said they are still on good terms. I spoke with Dan Brunet who seemed disappointed Kevin didn’t speak with him directly beforehand. But I also spoke with Kevin who seemed disappointed more wasn’t being done to unite the party.

So where does he stand? Alone. Without a party.

For the next year, that may not be a bad thing. It gives Scarpati time to separate himself from the drama. He can walk away from the back and forth and vote however he wants without anything in the back of his head.

But a year from now they will be endorsing candidates for City Council. At the age of 25 (now) and only one term in, I doubt Kevin is done with politics. It certainly helps to get a party endorsing him. I don’t know that the Republicans will jump at the opportunity and I doubt We the People will. Then again, I’m not sure what the options at the time will be for the Republicans. Candidate Ron Perry lost by a pretty wide margin last time. John Thorp switched parties and dropped out of the race for health issues. Would they try running somebody else?

As for the Democrats, they remain an open possibility, for now. Last time they opted not to run Thorp despite his interest. He was told he didn’t fall enough in line with what the Dems believe in and had some questionable votes. Kevin, on the other hand, seems to have the support of public safety right now, he has had education support and he is well-known in the community. It might be tough to pass up endorsing him and getting a candidate who may not lean to the far left, but one who might fall toward the middle of the Republicans and Democrats.

He probably put it best when he said he isn’t sure what will happen 6 months from now, let alone a year. I don’t think major changes will happen, but you never know.

Either way, a sitting councilor changing his party is an interesting move. It’s one I anticipated at some point based on the way he was feeling and my interviews with him. But because I assumed something was coming doesn’t mean I expected it. With a mostly quiet summer, I could have easily seen things quieting down and reverting back to what they were.

But then, on a quiet Friday afternoon, Kevin shook that up. That’s politics for ya.

Jul 21

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal

If you haven’t done this yet, I recommend you do it.

Take a quick look at this story and then check out the virtual tour of what the Meriden Hub (name pending) will be. Take your smart phone, use the QR reader, if you don’t have one - get one, then scan the QR code. You can follow the directions from there.

What you get is something pretty cool. It’s a look at the Meriden Hub. Right now, as I poke my head out the door, the Hub is under construction. It’s at all different elevations, but mostly a big dirt pile. It really looks like a giant sand box, but instead of sand it’s dirt and instead of toy trucks there are actual trucks.

But so many people doubt the project. That’s understandable because there is oftentimes a negative perception about downtown, projects Meriden takes on, etc. But you shouldn’t doubt something under construction. It’s happening and that 3D tour is proof. Those are real specifications and real plans.

I spent probably a half hour looking around, looking through the little intricacies and whatnot. I thought it was cool.

You wonder whether people will go to the park or not. On a 2D rendering looking down at the park, it makes sense - you aren’t sure what you’re getting. But in 3D it’s hard to imagine people don’t show up to the park. In the beginning it will likely be just to check it out. And I get it, Meriden has Hubbard Park. It’s a wonderful, magical place - but this won’t be terrible either. I’m sure it will succeed. It would be hard not to. People will go to Hubbard as a destination, but people will naturally walk through this park in downtown. And people will go there, but walkabout the area - that’s the hope anyway.

But let’s stop with the what ifs and ideas and hopes. Just take a few minutes to check out the tour. If you have any interest in Meriden, it’s worth a few minutes just to get the idea.