Dennis Grimes stood by, in a white hard hat and work boots, as city officials lauded a new construction project as “New Haven’s future.” For Grimes, the groundbreaking also represents a lifeline—for him and his family.
“I’ve been unemployed for two and a half years,” he said, after a press conference Wednesday to announce the start of a five-year, $45 million rebuilding of the shuttered rifle factory on Winchester Avenue and Munson Street in Newhallville. “I’m a single man with five children—I really have to work.”
“This gave me opportunity.”
Crews broke ground Wednesday afternoon on the historic arms factory —where the rapidly expanding, New Haven-based company Higher One plans to move its headquarters once construction ends. The homegrown financial services organization hopes to keep and expand jobs in the city.
Grimes is among nine neighborhood people who hope to clean up the property for the rebuilding. They’ve just gotten training through a new local company that’s looking to link New Haveners to new jobs.
“I’m a neighbor,” said Higher One Chief Operations Officer Miles Lasater, who lives in New Haven. “So being part of the community is important to me.”
Lasater said that if construction goes according to schedule, Higher One should be set to move into the new buildings in a few months.
The company is partnering with Winstanley Enterprises, Science Park Development Corporation and Forest City Residential Group in the construction, which will see two vacant buildings transformed into modern, mixed-use business, retail and living spaces.
They’ve received city and state money for the project. First up for renovation: tracks A and B, Higher One’s future home.
But before the company can move in, the factory needs a good clean up. It’s a brownfield site—meaning it contains lead, asbestos and other hazardous materials. Enter Grimes and eight other workers recruited from the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. They’re now in the final steps of completing a Brownfield Remediation Technician Training Program at Gateway Community College.
“We’re doing on the job training now,” said Grimes, standing with two other employees, Taj Edwards and Rick Goodjohn.
“Brownfield certification is such a great thing for our company to have,” said Mubarakah Ibrahim, President of EcoUrban Pioneers (EUP). EUP got the contract to do onsite training, she said.
While her employees will be fully certified once the program ends, EUP isn’t guaranteed the full contract.
“We’ll have to wait a couple weeks until the end of the training process, and then we’ll find out.”
Mubarakah hopes to be able to offer full employment to the ten newly trained workers at the Winchester site. “We’re hoping for other contracts too.”
EUP is a full service construction company, she said, with employees skilled in carpentry, masonry, painting and now brownfield cleanup. “That’s a great certification for our company to get,” she said, “because we’re now that much more valuable.”
New Haven has 89 other brownfield sites. Her employees can also now work on removing lead paint and other hazardous materials from homes and buildings around the city—not just at Winchester.
“We’re just really hoping to stay employed,” Grimes said.