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A Good Catch: Navigating the Challenges of Updating the Quinebaug Valley State Fish Hatchery

It’s a first for LaRosa Groups.

Known for our construction expertise, LaRosa Building Group has traditionally focused on new construction as well as renovation for human inhabitants to live in or work.

This project is a new catch for us: it’s a habitat for fish, specifically trout.

The Quinebaug Valley State Fish Hatchery, located at 145 Trout Hatchery Road in Plainfield Connecticut, was constructed in 1971 and is responsible for the production of the majority of the state’s trout. The hatchery is one of three hatcheries in Connecticut that together produce and distribute hundreds of thousands of adult trout, fry, and fingerlings in the state. The trout are bred in the hatchery for approximately 16 months before being released into the Connecticut River and neighboring lakes, where they are caught by fishermen and sold for human consumption.

“Diversification is one of our core values. While the hatchery is not our typical project, we are always prepared to take on unique challenges by tweaking the safety and quality controls that are intrinsic to our procedures and creatively adapting them to promote project success," explained James LaRosa, CEO of LaRosa Groups.

Sitting on 2,000 acres of land owned by the State of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, the hatchery needed an upgrade. The water is supplied by 14 wells, each of which can produce from 100 to 800 gallons per minute providing the 5,000 gallons per minute necessary for fish production. That massive amount of water needed comes from the aquifer and there was tremendous trepidation that the water supply required was unsustainable. The hatchery needed to install a new filtration system that would reuse the water, clean it, and then recycle it.

After a competitive bidding process, LaRosa was awarded the contract. Construction began in June 2022 and the project is slated for completion in April 2023.

New Construction: Quinebaug Valley State Fish Hatchery

One focus of the project is new construction. While the new construction may appear like two buildings, it is really one big building conjoined together. The first part is the biofilter building which has a metal canopy over it, and the other part is the treatment building which houses all the equipment and the electrical and plumbing systems.

In addition to the new construction piece, the project includes water system control and electrical equipment upgrades intended to reduce energy consumption and automate rearing water systems throughout the facility.

“These infrastructure improvements are intended to improve monitoring of critical fish life support systems, improve fish health and biosecurity of the hatchery, and extend the life of the infrastructure,” said Daniel Samuel, Project Manager at LaRosa Groups.

The Standard vs. Non-Standard Challenges

There are standard challenges in the construction industry. Labor is in short supply and inclement weather can delay even the best-planned project. Here are the non-standard challenges we have navigated in this project:

Uniqueness: Working on a hatchery is a learning curve because it is not the standard LaRosa new construction or rehab project. A perfect example is the size of the plumbing pipes. Normally the LaRosa projects call for four-to-six-inch pipes. In this project, the specs call for 18-to-24-inch pipes.

“It will be an incredibly proud moment when this project is complete, and we can say to ourselves, ‘we’ve never done this before, and we did it,’” said James "Jim" Lord, Project Superintendent at LaRosa Groups.

Estimation of expenses: The equipment needed for this project is highly specialized and the estimation of expenses was an unusually rigorous process.

“In the bidding process, we had to carefully read the plan specifications and coordinate with the subcontractors to make sure they had included all the specialized components,” explained James Uryase, Co-Director of Estimating at LaRosa Groups.

Material and equipment shortages: Equipment delivery continues to be a challenge because many of the orders are coming from Sweden and China. Even the US-manufactured materials have to be specially ordered and are often delayed.

Electrical shutdowns: We are required to shut down the electricity twice during the construction process to connect new equipment. Alternatively, the fish would need to be transported to other hatcheries and then brought back, which is an impractical solution. The first shutdown was at the beginning of the construction process and was only for a few days. A test was performed before the shutdown to ensure that the backup generators and the backup systems were in place. The second shutdown will be in March 2023, and it will last for a week.

Innovative technologies: The innovative technologies are directly linked to the scheduled electrical shutdowns. All the new equipment, including the generator and water pumps, are solar powered with WiFi attached.

“Our phone numbers are preprogrammed into the system. If anything fails, we receive notifications on our phones. The good news is that no calls have been received, “explained Daniel.

Despite the challenges, the hatchery is expected to be completed on schedule.

“There is something so unique about helping the largest hatchery on the east side of the Mississippi,” explained Patrick Monko, Assistant Project Manager at LaRosa Groups.

“On a personal note, this project is very dear to my heart. As a fisherman, I am committed to helping the environment and helping the fish. As an added perk, I now know where the best fishing spots in Connecticut are located.”

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