Stalled Teen Center Gets An Rx

DANIELA BRIGHENTI PHOTOA new report estimates that it could cost about $185,000 to finish work on the overdue teen Escape Center and that the city might have some grounds to renegotiate its lease and find new uses for space that will soon be vacated by a senior center.

Work on the teen center, which was supposed to open a year and a half ago, halted back in February after the project ran out of funds. (Read more about that here.) The Harp administration asked the Board of Alders for $200,000 in capital funding for the fiscal 2017-2018 budget that begins July 1 to finish the job.

The report was authored by City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, who was brought in to reevaluate the plans for the center, after it was discovered that the teen center was over budget, but not nearly close to being finished and ready to open. An estimated $350,000 to $400,000 has been spent on the building which is located at 645 Orchard St. and owned by Bethel AME Church.

The building is currently home to the Dixwell Senior Center, which occupies about 3,000 square feet and is leased from the church under one lease; the rest of the building is being leased separately for the future teen center. The senior center is expected to vacate the building when the new Q House is up and running some time in late 2018, early 2019.

According to Zinn’s report, the city has undertaken the following repairs since it began leasing the building:

• Created detailed plans of existing building.
• Roof repairs.
• HVAC unit replacement.
• Painting.
• Sheetrock installation.
• Construction of new partitions and storage areas.
• Demolition of drop ceilings.
• New carpet and flooring.
• Other demolition.

Zinn noted in the report that much of the work on the center, which will provide a place for New Haven teens to drop-in and also a 15-bed homeless shelter for young men 17-24, was performed by teens through the Youth at Work Program.

“While a considerable amount of work has been completed, there is significant work that needs to be done in order to return the building to a functional state,” Zinn wrote. “Various other contractors were engaged as well, and the previous project team reports that the HVAC scope, in particular, grew significantly in size and cost.”

Zinn said in his report that the remaining tasks involve mostly electrical and fire safety work along with some carpentry and general building work. That work has to take place in what will be two large community spaces — the ballroom and the drop-in center — so that the building can be opened to the public. He wrote that the basement and the third floor of the building would remain unoccupied because an elevator would be necessary to access those spaces. He said that work, using contractors in the city’s Small Contractor Development program, could be completed in about two to three months.

“While the cost of the work is hard to very accurately pin down until contracts are awarded, it is anticipated that the remaining work in the current phase has a budget of approximately $140,000,” he wrote. “With a 20 percent contingency, plus $25,000 allotment for fixtures, furnishings, and equipment, this brings the anticipated budget to $185,000.”

He concluded that completing the remaining work would be sufficient to get the building open and allow for public use, but he cautioned that to fulfill the Youth Department’s programmatic vision for the space, it does not represent all of the improvements the building needs.

“However, the completed space would be sufficient to support a significant amount programming, and if budget allows would also support the establishment of the 15-bed facility for homeless youth,” he wrote. He also suggested that the city evaluate and clarify the responsibilities it has as the lessee for utilities at the site and other responsibilities related to the upkeep of the building.

“There may be an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the leases to more equitably reflect the uses of the building,” he wrote. “Finally, a future option could possibly be finding complementary uses for the building that would expand the community service mission of the current programmatic plan while increasing the diversity of funding sources to sustain the operation of the building. In approximately 2-3 years, the senior center will be vacating the building to move into the new Q House, and the resultant space can be re-programmed to house symbiotic activities. While specific programmatic ideas are beyond the scope of this report, this diversification of the use of the building could bring in both additional operational revenue and also create new funding streams for future capital needs of the building.”

City Youth Director Jason Bartlett said that he is expecting work to restart on the center once the new budget kicks in on July 1. He said the content of Zinn’s report was no surprise to him.

“I’m just looking forward to having the money to get them done,” he said. But Bartlett was cautious on when the center might open. He said it will depend on when the remaining work is bid.

“Once we get started again ... we can talk about a completion date,” he said.

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posted by: Noteworthy on June 15, 2017  8:37am

This is a gross abuse of taxpayers. It is clear that Jason Bartlett failed to supervise this work effectively and certainly not efficiently; and it is clear that there was not a clear, articulated scope of work. It was an undefined dream of a pretend need. The work was done by kids with next to zero skills which allowed the work to languish. This entire project could have been done in 6 months or less with qualified contractors and skilled labor, and at a cost that was significantly less than it is now.

Moreover, it is clear that $200K will not even finish the building to fulfill the use envisioned. This is really disgusting. The church should give this building to the city. More has been spent on renovations than the damn building is even worth. Only a city employee like Bartlett, empowered by Mayor Harp, would do such a thing with at best, a half ass outcome.

posted by: NHPS Teacher on June 15, 2017  9:02am

Is the name set in stone?  “Escape Center”

posted by: southwest on June 15, 2017  11:28am

Why is it when the city take on a project it cost more to get the job done than average Joe the citizen that could easily got the job done for a mear 200,000 or less..I no why !! because they want to skim the taxpayers for money..if it were his building I guarantee you it would have been finished…when are we as taxpayers going to hold people like Barlette and all politicians accountable for our hard earn money..don’t they see the state has a deficit and no more free monies to give the city…with all the city property that owned, why did they have to go and spend all that money to lease a doesn’t make sense unless it was done purposely for a favor to someone…the city keep spending building and continue tasking taxpayers to pick up the slack for their misguided adventures ...their attitude not my money as long as I get a check to justify me spending your money..who cares!!

posted by: Paul Wessel on June 15, 2017  3:14pm

So far we’ve heard about a $48,000 a year 15-year lease and upwards of $600,000 in build-out costs for this project - and no mention of staffing and operating costs.  One wonders what the city could have achieved had these funds had been made available to an existing non-profit for these services.

posted by: justice4all on June 15, 2017  5:10pm

This is again another example of a an administration that somehow thinks they should do it all and control it all rather than working with experienced organizations who can lend expertise, knowledge, experience and can collectively accomplish want is best for our residents.  Instead, here we have a disastrous plan that is a total waste of money, time and worst of all our residents get nothing.  Please don’t insult us by saying that all it takes is another $200,000 just for the rehab of the building, then what a building with nothing in it.  Let’s not forget the rent we have paid and continue to pay, I am sure the church who owns the building is grinning ear to ear all the way to the bank.

posted by: Nadine H on June 15, 2017  8:54pm

Completely agree with all the comments that have already been made, especially those that point out the extreme waste of funds that could have been put to much better use elsewhere with existing nonprofits AND the fact that after all the money spent and will spend, we STILL won’t own the building. How in the world did this get approved??!!

posted by: Westville voter on June 15, 2017  9:53pm

Why are my tax dollars being spent for massive renovations to a building the city doesn’t own? I can understand paying for interior reconfiguration, but the roof and HVAC are the landlord’s responsibility, not mine.  The cost overruns are inexcusable, but the entire arrangement has a stench of corruption. This should be investigated, but it won’t be because this is New Haven. The BOA needs to step up and do its job, or step down.

posted by: CTLifer on June 15, 2017  9:53pm

I agree with all of the previous comments, this is over budget and is beyond anything New Haven can afford.  My question is why can’t neighborhood schools provide ‘Escape’ services to New Haven Youth?  We have over 50 schools, many with pools, almost all air conditioned, equipped with gyms and playgrounds.  I realize there is an insurance cost, but it seems to me this option is always overlooked or excuses are given with intense reluctance to find a way to make it work.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 16, 2017  3:38am

Westville Voter,

I want to know why the public schools aren’t being used to fill this need.

Not only does the City own that asset, we the taxpayers have been paying for them as well, along with a bunch of empty promises about…...(fill in blank)

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2017  5:53pm

Like I said before.Do not worry.Pinocchio Politicians will sell more lies to the taxpayers to get the Money.

I am the voice of the people.Amandla!!!!

posted by: JCFremont on June 21, 2017  12:47pm

Seems like contractors treat governments like any deep pocketed client, low ball the original budget then figure they’ll just explain about “emergency funding.” Maybe Ye Olde Workhouse was the last efficient “Youth” program that actually trained a youth.