Public Works HQ Crumbling; $10M Fix Eyed

Thomas Breen photoThe Middletown Avenue building that houses the city’s snow plows, street sweeping trucks and most public works staffers is crumbling under years of sustained exposure to salt, propped up by an “aluminum forest” of temporary support beams, and desperately in need of a $10 million comprehensive redesign and rehabilitation.

So argued Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Jeff Pescosolido and City Engineer Giovanni Zinn Monday night at a Board of Alders Finance Committee workshop on the mayor’s proposed $547.1 million operating budget and $79.6 million capital budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The workshop was held in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

The mayor’s proposed budget includes $13.2 million in capital funds for DPW. $10 million of that sum is dedicated to facility upgrades, repairs and modifications for DPW’s headquarters at 34 Middletown Ave, a three-story garage and office space known as the Public Works Central Services Facility.

Built in 1957, the 53,000-square-foot building consists of three stories: a repair garage, a shared parking garage and office space, and a storage garage. Pescosolido said that the facility houses around 75 DPW staffers and around 35 to 40 DPW vehicles on a daily basis. The department’s 15 garbage trucks are stored and maintained at a different facility a little further up Middletown Avenue.

“For the success of DPW, we have to remain under one roof,” Pescosolido told the alders on Monday night.

He said that the centralization of the majority of the department’s staff, trucks and equipment at the facility on Middletown Avenue allowed for a critical level of communication and coordination within DPW during storm emergencies.

“Having all our divisions under one roof is critical towards the success of our operations and the delivery of our services to the public,” he said.

Fr the past 61 years, the three-story concrete building has suffered under the withering effects of salt that is carried into and spread throughout the garages by trucks returning from snow storm duty, Zinn explained. He said that frequent visitors to the site refer to the garage as an “aluminum forest” because of all of the support beams that have been erected over the years to prop up the garage’s crumbling foundation.

He said that the building was quite a sturdy and durable construction when it was first built in the mid-1950s. But fluoride from the salt has gotten into the concrete and has deteriorated the steel reinforcing that is inside the concrete slabs of the floors.

“The structural integrity of the floor is compromised,” he said. “No matter how many supports you have beneath it, the floors won’t be able to sustain the heavy equipment that is used on a daily basis.”

Zinn said that major repairs were required to shore up the building for future use as a vehicle storage and repair site. The top-level and mid-level garage floors need to be cut out and replaced, as does one of the walls in the lower-level garage that has worn away under decades of contact with a pile of salt.

He also said that the hydrodemolition, or extremely high-pressure water jets, that will be used for the demolition of the necessary parts of the facility will destroy all the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems of the building, so the city will have to rewire the building and install brand new heating systems and plumbing.

“You have to do the work in a very particular sequence so as not to destabilize the building,” Zinn said as he explained why the $10 million capital fund request for the project was all scheduled for next fiscal year. “You can’t really go in there and cut out the floor for two floors and expect the building to stand.”

He said that the city hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2019, and to have at least part of the facility operational by the winter of 2019.

Pescosolido told the alders that he and Zinn were still in the investigation, concept and schematic design phases of the project. They said that they would have a better sense of how exactly each dollar will be spent as they approach the design development, bid, and construction administration stages later this year and early next year.

Hill Alder Dave Reyes asked if DPW staff will need to relocate to temporary trailers on site. He also asked about where the trucks currently stored at the facility will be located during construction.

“As we get closer, we’ll continue to evolve those plans,” Zinn said. He said that hydrodemolition can produce upwards of 130 decibels of noise, and will therefore render the office space at the facility way too loud for administrative use.

Pescosolido said that he is currently looking into different city-owned properties where the snow plows and street sweeping trucks can be stored and regularly repaired.

“Fleet repair is a concern,” he said. He said that it was a regulated activity, and not just any side is zoned to allow for the storage and repair of the types of heavy duty vehicles owned by DPW.

Hill Alder Dolores Colon asked how potential trade wars with China and a subsequent rise in steel costs will affect the project’s $10 million budget.

“Steel is a little less significant a portion of the cost of this building,” Zinn said, as the building is primarily concrete. He said that the primary cost driver for this project is paying for the labor that will go into the demolition and construction.

He also said that he and Pescosolido had looked into ditching the current site and finding somewhere new to build a new DPW facility, but that those costs wound up being higher than staying put and fixing what the city already had.

“The facility does work where it is now,” Zinn said. “It just needs to have three floors instead of 1.5, which is pretty much what’s usable at this point.”

Hill Health Plans Move To Q House

Zinn also announced during his presentation of the Engineering Department’s proposed budget on Monday night that the Cornell Scott – Hill Health Center on Dixwell Avenue now plans to move its entire operations from their current offices at 226 Dixwell Ave. into the new community Q house once that project is built next fiscal year.

Initially, he said, Hill Health planned to lease a little over 3,000 square-feet of space in the new community center. Now it wants to lease over 13,000 square-feet of space, and move all, not part, of its community health center services into the new Q house. Zinn said the health center’s increased footprint at the new Q house accounts for most of his department’s $3 million capital fund budget request for the Q house line item.

He told the alders that, unlike the city, non-profits like Hill Health have trouble raising money for capital construction projects, but have a relatively easy time collecting and distributing cash on hand for general operations.

Therefore, Hill Health’s lease with the Q house will be structured in such a way that the medical center will pay off the corresponding increase to the city’s capital budget through regular payments over the duration of its lease.

The Board of Alders must approve a final version of the budget by the first week of June.

The next budget workshop, during which the Finance Committee will interview department heads about their respective allocations in the mayor’s proposed budget, is on Thursday, April 19, at 6 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

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posted by: Noteworthy on April 10, 2018  10:40am

Blame the Salt Notes:

1. So the structure is falling apart because we drove trucks, covered with salt into a parking garage which ate through the concrete and then at through the structural support. Ever think the trucks should be hosed down outside? What is being done to make sure the new structure won’t also be destroyed the same way?

Sequester the bond proceeds - until you have firm plans for the design and operational plan that will protect this investment. There are too many unanswered questions that should have already been answered by now.

2. Hill Health’s lease is going to cover the $3 million bond - but it should be structured around the life of the bond, not the life of the lease. The bond is likely to be shorter.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 10, 2018  11:55am

Noteworthy, public works bonds are typically for 20 years. Why do you think the lease will be longer?

posted by: Noteworthy on April 10, 2018  12:03pm

The better question is why are the Public Works bonds being used for the Q House? That’s not typically what one matches up with garbage, street cleaning, maintenance, roads and bridges.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 10, 2018  12:27pm

Noteworthy, that is a good question (although they are city, rather than public works, general obligations),. But you did not respond to my question.

posted by: opin1 on April 10, 2018  12:50pm

‘Initially Hill Health planned to lease a little over 3,000 sf of space in the new community center. Now it wants to lease over 13,000 sf.’

Presumably this means other activities within the Q Center (gym, workout space, senior center, recording studio, Stetson library) just lost 10,000 sf of space (of the 54,000 building total). Which of those programs are they taking the square footage from? 

Also, who owns 226 Dixwell (the current health center)? what will become of that building and the current Stetson Library once both of those move into the new Q House?

posted by: robn on April 10, 2018  12:55pm

Maybe this is a stupid question but, recognizing the need for several heated repair bays, why do vehicles need to be stored indoors?

posted by: robn on April 10, 2018  1:09pm

Also, regarding vehicles not people, semi-permanent and potentially moveable soft structures could be had for probably less.

posted by: FacChec on April 10, 2018  1:09pm

@ Kevin McCarthy on April 10, 2018 11:55am

Kevin, For the most part I can support the request here by the Public works dept. The only dept. in my view that is visibly active in the neighborhoods producing real results, and who responds to residents promptly. This proposal is not a 20 yr. bond; it is actually a 10 yr. bond. (pg. 4-34/35 budget hard copy).  However, included in the bond request for the 10M is a description (pg. 4-14) of a repair to 100 college St. which is not a public works facility. The amount of this repair out of the 10M is not mentioned, nor do the Alders here perform investigatory work in order to pose pertinent questions to Director Jeff Pescosolido and City Engineer Giovanni Zinn. Rather, the Alders ask questions that do not merit an answer.

As far as the Q house and the Cornell Health center is concerned, the city is really only creating another vacancy and paying the rent for this non-profit at a new facility across the street. Further, if the q-House is providing an additional 10,000 feet for expansion of care, then why would it be necessary to increase the Health dept GF budget by $468K for public health services, (pg.1-28 and a additional three health nurses @ $45,501, on top of the four added last year. I hope this answers your question.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 10, 2018  1:26pm


If the Q House is a public works bond, then it shouldn’t be in that category. As to the length of the bond - that’s up to the city how long it runs. But stretching out $3 million to 20 years is a lot of interest. We can choose whatever length we want. As for Hill Health - the who community health system is under stress. If we’re depending on Hill Health to cover the cost of the bonds, for all those years - that’s dicey. Not sure that’s the best idea.

posted by: East Rocker on April 10, 2018  4:49pm


Can you please write an article about the governing structure of the new Q House?  Is this going to be a department of the city?  An independent non-profit?  If the latter, who is going to be on the board?  And how will the city ensure that this Q House will not meet the same fate as the last one?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 10, 2018  6:55pm

FacChec, thanks for the information. Isn’t 100 College the Alexion Building?

posted by: FacChec on April 10, 2018  7:12pm

Alexion, 100 College St. Yup that’s it..

“The total expected investment for the construction of the new headquarters is $140m.”
The total expected investment for the construction of the new headquarters is $140m. The Connecticut state government contributes $51m for the project under its Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) First Five programme.

The assistance is provided as a ten-year loan of $20m at 1% interest for five years. It also includes around $25m towards industrial sites reinvestment tax credits, and a $6m grant for the laboratory construction and equipment.

Between $16m and $20m are rebated under loan forgiveness schemes if the promised 200 to 300 permanent jobs are created.

The Alders need to investigate how and why the city is now proposing thru this the bond fund allocation by way of public works dept; to perform repairs at this for profit site, who has been given millions by DECD state of CT.

posted by: Giovanni Zinn on April 11, 2018  1:47pm

@FacChec and @KevinMcCarthy

Thank you for pointing out that the description in the budget also references 100 College St.  Upon further investigation, it would appear that those references at least partially remained in the description from last year’s budget that had a very similarly titled line item.  It is my understanding that last year’s budget included funds for some potential minor repairs to the tunnel under 100 College St and into the Air Rights garage, which is City owned and maintained.  There are no capital repairs to the city owned tunnel portion of the area under 100 College St. anticipated at this time. 

As DPW and I testified at the hearing that informed this article, the entire $10 Million is intended for the rehabilitation of the Public Works garage at 34 Middletown Ave.  The description of this $10M line item will be updated to remove all references to 100 College St. as part of the City’s forthcoming technical amendment, so please look out for that.  Thanks again for catching this issue.

posted by: FacChec on April 11, 2018  7:55pm

@Giovanni Zinn on April 11, 2018 1:47pm
Within the 2017/18 budget which you referenced as follows: “last year’s budget that had a very similarly titled line item.  It is my understanding that last year’s budget included funds for some potential minor repairs to the tunnel under 100 College St and into the Air Rights garage, which is City”.

From the budget pg 4-7: 1845 Facility Upgrades Repairs and Modification $225,000 City
Funds will support the structural review and required environmental testing which must occur before a preliminary
design of a newly rehabbed Public Works Central Services Facility at 34 Middletown Avenue is finalized. Additional
funds are being requested for site modifications to the 100 College St. project: A project to be maintained by New Havens DPW.

From the request 1845 it hardly seems likely the DPW could have performed structural and environmental testing before design on the DPW facility review , and at the same time site modifications to 100 college st. on only $225,000 of which according to the recent Feb monthly report:

Feb. Monthly Report:
PUBLIC WORKS FACILITY UPGRADES REP. 225,000 225,000 7,813 225,000

Only $7,813 has been spent on both studies.
Now you say you are taking out all references in the 18/19 proposed budget for 100 college st and the Air rights garage.

What’s up with that??