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Construction blues

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“Pardon our dust, but dig we must.”

That’s the sign that Consolidated Edison (the power company that everyone in New York City loves to hate) used to post whenever its workers had to dig up a street and make a big mess — the kind of mess that June Thomas has been putting up with on Meriden’s east side.

Thomas used to live in the third house up from Maloney High School. Now she lives right next door, and she’s hating it.

But it wasn’t Thomas who moved — it was Maloney. That is, the $107.5 million renovation and expansion of the 1958 high school has gobbled up the two houses that used to be in between, leaving her next door to what will have been a construction site for more than three years, before all is said an done.

“My house vibrates, there’s dust flying around, I can’t see around the corner when I’m backing out of my driveway, it’s just miserable,” Thomas told a reporter.

And even then, her new neighbor will be a parking lot instead of a grassy yard with a house on it.

“What’s going to happen with all the exhaust,” she said, “with a parking lot next door” and a child with asthma?

Beyond the health issue — and the noise and the dust — she worries about the value of her property. Thomas would just as soon have the city buy her house, as it did the others, but that’s not likely to happen, according to Glen Lamontagne, a consultant for both the Maloney and Platt high school construction projects. Instead, he offered a prediction that property values in the neighborhood will go up once the work is finished; that the new Maloney will then be an “enhancement” to the neighborhood.

What the city fears is a “domino effect,” said City Councilor Brian P. Daniels. If it buys the Thomas property, what about the next house, and the one after that? Officials also point out that the two houses that were purchased were directly in the way, while the Thomas house isn’t; and that there are regulations that may limit state reimbursement.

City and construction officials said they’ve been taking action to reduce the impact on Maloney’s neighbors by installing a screen to control dust and by sweeping Gravel Street daily. In addition, equipment may be moved farther away from Thomas’ property in the summer, and the finished project will include a permanent fence with planters alongside the Thomas property.

“When everything is said and done, I don’t think it’s going to be so terrible having us as a neighbor,” Lamontagne said.

But a not-so-terrible neighbor is far different from a good neighbor.

“I still feel like I want out of here,” Thomas said. “If I can’t sell my house, I’m doomed.”

As hard as it is to predict future property values without a crystal ball, a finished school should turn out to be a neighborhood asset in the long run, although it’s easy to imagine that the properties closest to Maloney are, at least for the time being, worth less.

But big questions remain: How much should the neighbors of a public construction project have to put up with? Should the city have to buy a property whose value has been damaged by the city’s actions? Or should the owner of such a property get some kind of tax break? Or would that set a precedent that the city simply can’t afford?



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