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On the Rebound from Industrial Contamination: The Newhall/Highwood Neighborhood in Hamden

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

It started as a swamp. Then it became a landfill where New Haven businesses disposed of their industrial waste. Today, thanks to the collaborative effort of the Town of Hamden, the Olin Corporation, the Regional Water Authority, the State of Connecticut, the Hamden Economic Development Corporation, neighborhood residents, and property owners, the Newhall neighborhood in Hamden is on the rebound from industrial contamination to residential renewal.

History of The Newhall/Highwood Neighborhood in Hamden

Here's a little background we think is important to share.

From 1890-1930, US Repeating Arms (now the Olin Corporation) filled in the swampy marshes, which were breeding grounds for mosquitos. They decided to use the increasing amount of garbage generated by local businesses which was attracting rats as the filler, and then built many homes and sold lots through the early 1950s. It seemed like a logical way to kill two birds (more specifically, mosquitos and rats) with one stone. Some of the industrial waste came from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company factory in New Haven which led to high levels of arsenic, lead, and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the soil which are currently known to be harmful to human health.

The contaminated soil became an issue in 2000 when the local school board needed to add a new addition to the existing middle school building. The Department of Environmental Protection initiated an investigation and led a massive cleanup effort from 2010-2015. Another issue that became known was structural damage to hundreds of homes due to poor soil conditions.

Fast forward to 2021 when our company, LaRosa Building Group, was chosen to work with the Hamden Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) to repair structural damage to up to 100 homes in the contaminated area

The project started in November 2021 and is expected to be completed in Summer-Fall of 2023.

“This is a unique project. Though our client is the HEDC, each of the 100 properties is privately owned. Our challenge is to coordinate with the client and make 100 homeowners happy at the same time,” explained James LaRosa, CEO, LaRosa Building Group.

Coordination with government agencies is always challenging. But there is an added layer of challenges. Newhall is a fully-occupied phased renovation project. What that means is this project requires extensive coordination with not only the client and the ATDC but also the homeowners through a number of different phases.

Here are the six challenges of completing this fully-occupied phased-renovation project:

🚧#1: The sheer quantity of the work

There are up to 100 homes slated for renovation.

“In an ideal world, we would work on as many houses as possible at the same time. With so many individual owners, the best solution is to work on the houses in multiple phases as organized by the HEDC. HEDC’s Executive Director Dale Kroop has been spearheading this process which has been critical to the flow of the project,” explained Kyma Ganzer, Pre-Construction Manager, LaRosa Building Group.

HEDC dictates which house is scheduled first based on the severity of the need. Under this system, homes with damaged foundations and flooding issues move up the list as opposed to those requiring minor interior adjustments.

🚧#2: Homeowner's schedule

Each home is individually owned. So even though the client is the HEDC, it is our job to accommodate the homeowners’ preferences. For example, there was one property owner who was only off on Mondays and wanted to schedule the work when he was at home.

The solution: Work was scheduled at that location only on Mondays.

🚧#3: Material lead time

There are times when the schedule is set and the subs are ready to work but the supplies and materials needed may be delayed or discontinued.

“There were supply chain problems before the pandemic. COVID exacerbated the issue,” explained Kyma.

🚧#4: Laydown area

Sometimes we get lucky. The supplies we need for the 20 houses that are scheduled at a particular date arrive on time. The problem is what to do with that quantity of supplies. It is unsafe to stack them outside of the homes and often storing them in our trailer is not feasible. Due to costs and shortages, materials are a hot commodity today and it is preferable not to expose them to the outside elements or leave them in public areas without proper security.

The challenge is to coordinate delivery with the time of installation, which is coordinated with the homeowner’s schedule.

🚧#5: Manpower

The key today is not only to hire talented subs, including small, local MBEs but also to make sure the subs have enough manpower to keep on schedule. In the post-pandemic era, this is not always easy.

🚧#6: Coordination of the work schedule with the building department

Construction involves both permitting and inspection processes. Many municipalities are short-staffed so it is taking longer for permit applications to be approved, and inspectors are backlogged because of the abundance of construction and staff shortages.

While coordination and communication are key, the true secret to any project’s success is the supervisor hired to work with government agencies, oversee the project in the field, manage the subs, and keep both the client and the homeowners happy.

“We are lucky to have a seasoned veteran like Allan Doyon, to be the Project Superintendent on this project,” added Kyma.

Allan has worked for LaRosa Building Group for 22 years. He was initially hired as a carpenter and transitioned to superintendent a few years later.

When one of the Newhall homeowners was asked about her experience with Allan, her immediate response was, “They don’t make them like that anymore.” She said Allan goes above and beyond every day and has helped her and her neighbors develop a level of trust for the company after being skeptical because of interactions with other contractors. Both the homeowner and Dale Kroop from HEDC emphasized how much of an asset he is to the company.

“Allan Doyon is managing multiple homes on multiple blocks simultaneously. His ability to engage with the homeowners and command both their respect and their cooperation has been a major factor in the success of this project,” explained Kyma.

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