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LaRosa Construction crews continue work on the Hub site in downtown Meriden, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Some tenants of the Mills Memorial apartments nearby are concerned over dust from the construction site. |  Dave Zajac / Record-Journal
LaRosa Construction crews continue work on the Hub site in downtown Meriden, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. The smooth surface in the foreground (extending up the left side of the photo) is the culvert for Harbor Brook.  |  Dave Zajac / Record-Journal View from the roof of the Mills Memorial Apartments showing LaRosa Construction crews continuing work on the Hub site in downtown Meriden, Tuesday, July 8, 2014.  |  Dave Zajac / Record-Journal An excavator loads material into a truck to be taken to the screening tower to sift out rocks, bricks, concrete and debris.

Meriden Hub project on track; Harbor Brook channel half dug

MERIDEN – With about 50 percent of a channel cut through the Hub site, La Rosa Construction reports being on schedule while taking numerous precautions to minimize the project’s impact on local residents and businesses.

The city hired the contractor to build a park on the vacant former commercial site that will help control flooding while a portion of the property will be set aside for economic development. The work entails uncovering and redirecting Harbor Brook, which has flowed through an underground culvert at the Hub since the 1950s.

La Rosa employees and city officials held an on-site meeting Tuesday morning to discuss progress and plans to submit various water diversion and shoring proposals.

“We’re moving along rather nicely,” said Associate City Engineer Brian Ennis.

Job Superintendent Peter Haber said they plan to begin diverting water from the culvert that holds Harbor Brook within the next two months, although it will not immediately be directed into the channel. The water will flow through a temporary channel at first.

Residents driving by have likely noticed the looming piles of dirt on the site. According to Scarfo, the piles contain dirt that has already been processed by a screening machine to filter out brick, concrete and other debris left over from previous developments. Almost all of the dirt will be repurposed for use on the site, including for shoring plans, which involves earth retention around the channel. Other processed material will be repurposed for the construction of concrete sidewalks.

Ennis said that at this point almost all of the contaminated soil has been categorized, stockpiled and is beginning to be trucked off site.

Workers are about halfway done digging out the channel, according to Scarfo. The next big step is to finalize the shaping of the channel, construct concrete headwalls and begin to line the channel with stones known as river cobble.

That way, “people will be able to drive by and start to see the channel itself, what’s its future look will be like,” said Scarfo.

Residents of Mills Memorial Apartments, across Mill Street from the project site, have been complaining about dust from the project, according to Meriden Housing Authority resident services director David Sunshine.

“We do get a pretty fair amount of dust,” said Sunshine, whose office is at the Mills complex. “You can see it on the cars.”

Mills resident Emily Morales-Varone said the dust problem is so severe you can see it floating in the air. Morales-Varone suffers from asthma and expressed frustration at the issues the dust has been causing for her family.

“My medical bills are through the roof,” said Morales-Varone, a resident member of the housing authority board of commissioners. Both she and her children suffer from asthma, which has been aggravated by the dust, and must take multiple medications, she said.

Morales-Varone said she can’t open the window without dust getting in her apartment, and because of the summer heat has to rely on an air conditioner running constantly to stay cool. As a result, her electric bill has increased substantially.

The cost of asthma medication and higher electric bills has put financial strain on her family. “I was late on my rent last month,” she said. “It’s not my fault my asthma is out of control.”

Scarfo said, “we’re very conscious and cognizant of not only safety for our workers but also obviously the safety and living conditions of all of the people that are around us,”

Scarfo said containing the dust is difficult because the wind downtown tends to blow north or south directly through the 14-acre site.

According to Scarfo, La Rosa has taken several measures to decrease the dust including the use of a truck with a water sprayer to wet down the dirt piles, seeding and calcium-chloride treatments.

The calcium-chloride “stabilizes the dirt,” and helps prevent it from becoming airborne.

Along State Street, efforts to seed dirt piles are already visible. One mound is covered with a fresh layer of grass. Like the calcium-chloride treatments, growing grass on the piles prevents excess dust from blowing off.

Despite the problems some Mills residents have experienced, Sunshine said most are very excited to see the finished product. “They understand that it’s the price of progress,” he said.

Though Morales-Varone said she looks forward to being able to bring her kids to the park when it’s finished, she and her family are having trouble coping with the construction.

According to Haber, the project is planned to be completed around August 2015.

While the project’s time line may be lengthy, “it’s a war,” Ennis said, “not a battle.”

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