Meriden Re-Make Continues, Spurred by State Support; Additional Funds Sought to Implement Plan

The City of Meriden is seeking $2 million from the State of Connecticut to improve six roadway sections in downtown Meriden, to improve traffic flow, improve accessibility and increase safety for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians traveling within Meriden’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning district. The grant application is the latest effort as part of the city’s “Meriden 2020 Bringing It Together” initiative, which is focused on transit oriented development to recapture the luster of the “Silver City”  and has received a steady flow of state funds in recent months to boost the effort.

The roadway sections - including Colony Street, West Main Street, State Street, Perkins Square/South Colony and East Main Street - were selected and analyzed for improvements in prior studies and investigations.  The initiative is an outgrowth of a two State of Connecticut TOD Pilot grants, a US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Challenge grant and a HUD Choice Neighborhoods Planning grant.Hub_site_Feb_2016

A website,, highlights the numerous efforts underway to redevelop the city’s central business, including ways to resolve historic flooding issues, repurpose underutilized brownfield sites, remake the rail station area into a modern transportation center, and provide links to the regional trail system.

Meriden’s Transit Oriented Development program seeks to “transform the Meriden Transit Center (MTC) and the half-mile area around it into a vibrant neighborhood that includes new residential and commercial development, public spaces and improved access to public transportation.” Construction of the new transportation center is underway, and local officials recently initiated a study to examine planned ridership and usage by area residents and businesses.

Last week, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) and Department of Housing (DOH) announced approval funds meridenfor a proposed mixed use development project at 161-177 State Street, which is phase one of a multi-phase project that includes demolition of the Mills public housing project and implementation of the Harbor Brook Flood Control project north of the Hub site.   The new building will be within walking distance of Meriden`s new Transit center.

The proposed project will have 75-units of mixed-income family housing, with ground level retail space and a preschool. The property will include eight supportive units and 60 units targeted for households with incomes of 60 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI). In addition, 26 of the 60 units will be supported by project based Section 8.

sealsIn February, the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), the City of Meriden and The Midstate Chamber of Commerce announced the opening of the newest CTSBDC office, to be located at Meriden City Hall.

The new office is offering professional, confidential business advising to entrepreneurs in every stage of business and all industry sectors in the City of Meriden. “This beneficial partnership between the Connecticut Small Business Development Center and the City of Meriden ensures that entrepreneurs of the city have access to the necessary resources available to assist with starting or growing their business. This allows for economic growth and job creation in this area,” said CTSBDC State Director Emily Carter. CTSBDC also has a “virtual” location at the Meriden Public Library, where individuals can connect with CTSBDC advisors online.

In January, Meriden was awarded $100,000 in state funds to further revitalization and redevelopment in the TOD and Choice Neighborhoods target areas. The funding came through the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Brownfield Area-Wide Revitalization (BAR) Grant program, a year-old state pilot program that encourages communities to consider areas such as neighborhoods, downtowns, waterfront districts, or other sections with multiple brownfields and develop strategies to assess, clean up, and reuse the parcels for business, housing, and public amenities that will generate jobs and revenues and revitalize the entire area.Transit Center

Weeks later, the Department of Economic and Community Development awarded the Meriden a $2 million grant for the demolition and remediation of the Mills Public Housing Complex.  The city plans to demolish the structures at 144 Mills Memorial as a prerequisite to implementing the Harbor Brook Flood Control Plan at the site.  While the 144 Mills Memorial site will be used for flood control purposes and will not be used for development, officials say the construction of the flood control plan at the site will allow for development to proceed at the adjacent sites, which include the Meriden Hub Site (located at 1-77 State Street) and at the Mills Megablock site (located at 161-177 State Street and 62 Cedar Street).

Meriden officials point out that commuter rail service to Hartford and New Haven is scheduled to begin later this year.  The new commuter rail service is expected to spur significant “transit oriented development” in the city center.  Once the rail service is operational, nearly 140,000 workers located within one mile of a rail station will be able to commute to Meriden within a 40-minute ride, the website points out.

Meriden Superintendent Benigni Named One of 16 Leaders to Learn From in Education

Each year, the national publication Education Week shines a spotlight on some of the nation’s most outstanding school district leaders in its Leaders To Learn From special report. The 2015 group of 16  exceptional district-level leaders who are tackling some of the most pressing challenges in K-12 education includes Meriden Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni, the only Connecticut education leader chosen. The 16 educators were selected because their work is highlighted by “ideas and strategies that are yielding strong results that can be borrowed, adapted, and put to successful use in other school systems,” according to the publication.

meridenIn Meriden, students at Casimir Pulaski, John Barry, and Roger Sherman elementary schools receive an additional 100 minutes of instruction each day with technical and financial support from a public-private partnership known as the TIME Collaborative.

Led by the National Center on Time & Learning and backed by the Ford Foundation, the initiative has brought expanded learning time to schools in 16 districts across five states – Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee.  In Connecticut, Meriden has been involved with the initiative since 2012.

“It’s not just getting more time for the sake of time.  It’s getting that time to do the enrichment activities that we know our students love and enjoy.  That’s what school should be about – exciting and inspiring kids,“ Benigni said.  “And the results have been tremendous.”  He cites “improved attendance, improved academics, improved feelings about the school climate and culture, but most importantly we have happy kids.”meriden sign

In selecting Benigni, Education Week noted that “as a city councilor, mayor, and now, a local schools chief, Mark D. Benigni has had one constant priority in his career: expanding educational opportunities for children in his hometown of Meriden.”

As superintendent of the 9,100-student Meriden school district, Benigni has orchestrated initiatives like full-day kindergarten, Saturday enrichment academies, and increased time for teacher collaboration, Education Week pointed out. Also highlighted were his efforts advocating for “state-of-the-art learning environments—breaking ground on a $230 million project to build two new high schools, and securing a $3.5 million grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to design student-centered, blended instruction.”

“Most notably,” his selection as one of the 16 Leaders of 2015, was prompted by bringing the expanded learning time initiative  to three of the district’s elementary schools, “poLTLFsitioning Meriden—a majority-minority district—at the forefront of a national movement to increase student achievement and well-being through longer, more enriching school days.”

Benigni began his career as a special education teacher in Meriden, was an assistant principal in the neighboring Berlin district, and served his hometown of Meriden as a city councilor, and then mayor. He returned to the district as superintendent in 2010, after two years as a high school principal in the nearby Cromwell district.

Describing the selection project, Education Week notes that "in school districts across the country, education leaders are using innovative strategies to improve curriculum and instruction, address management challenges, stretch resources, engage parents and communities, utilize new technologies effectively, and create optimal learning environments that prepare all students for success beyond their K-12 years."

Benigni is the first Connecticut education leader selected since 2013, when Connecticut Technical High School System administrator Patricia Ciccone, who served as the superintendent of the 11,000-student technical high school system from 2003 until retiring in December 2012, was among that year's 16 Leaders to Learn From.

“I always knew education was my passion,” Benigni said. “Even as mayor, it was about what I could do to better the lives of people, and most importantly, students.”

Construction of New Rail Stations Set to Begin in 3 Connecticut Communities

The start of construction is imminent this fall for new rail stations in Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin as part of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program.  The new, expanded commuter service, to debut in 2016, will be branded the “Hartford Line,” as a key component of an increasingly robust multi-modal regional transportation system being developed in the state and region. Improvements at the three stations include high-level platforms on both sides of the track, overhead pedestrian bridge with new elevators and stair towers, platform snow melt systems, electric vehicle charging stations, ticket vending machines and passenger information display systems,  high-resolution video surveillance systems, increased parking capacity and roadway access improvements, improved accessibility and bicycle racks.2014.10.22_Hartford_Line_s

Funded through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) created under President Barack Obama in 2008, and State of Connecticut bonds proceeds, the NHHS Rail Program is aimed at providing significant new regional passenger rail service options.  Existing stations on the Hartford line are in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor Locks and Springfield.  Plans call for future stations in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford and Enfield. base_map

Officials point out that one of the primary objectives of the NHHS program is to serve as a catalyst for transit-oriented development (TOD) around the stations. The state Department of Transportation is working with towns to help leverage the investment in railroad infrastructure to capture local development benefits. TOD, in the form of compact, mixed-use districts, is pedestrian-friendly and contributes to vibrant and active communities. By promoting the use of transit, TOD also reduces reliance on automobiles, resulting in energy cost savings and improved air quality.

In June, officials from the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) toured parts of the NHHS Rail corridor, and state officials recently visited a proposed rail station site in Enfield.

The new NHHS rail service is expected to operate at speeds up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to as short as 79 minutes. Travelers  will be able to board trains every 45 minutes during the morning and evening peak hours and every 90 minutes during off-peak periods when the new system is operational.

A year ago, a West Haven rail station was added to the New Haven line.  Located midway between Milford and New Haven stations, West Haven was the first new station to open on the New Haven Line since Fairfield Metro Station was added in 2011. West Haven Station was designed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin and built by a Connecticut company, Manafort Brothers of Plainville.

A New York City-based construction firm, Judlau Construction, has been awarded the $58.8 million contract to build the new railroad stations in Berlin, Meriden and Wallingford, the New Haven Register reported last month.  The firm specializes in large public works projects and design-build services, and currently ranks #132 on Engineering News Record’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, as well as #32 among Top Domestic Heavy Contractors. (In 2011, the company ranked #113 on the Top 400 list and #33 on the Top Domestic Heavy Contractors list.)

In June, the Chicago Tribune reported that the company was being awarded a $64 million construction contract by Illinois Tollway as low bidder for construction of new highway entrance ramps.  The Tribune also reported that Judlau “admitted improper hiring practices and paid a $7.5 million penalty in connection with an alleged minority hiring scheme” in New York, which the company said it had “self-reported” to the U.S. Attorney’s office.  The Tribune reported that “according to a 2012 civil lawsuit settlement with the U.S. attorney's office, Judlau and its partner in a Metropolitan Transportation Authority tunnel project admitted engaging in improper hiring practices involving minority- and women-owned businesses, otherwise known as disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs.”

Three CT School Districts Approach School Year Preparing for More Instruction Time

Last December, Connecticut was one of five states selected to participate in a pilot project by the TIME Collaborative to extend instruction time during the school year by 300 hours, in an initiative aimed at improving academic preparedness and boosting student achievement.  Seven Connecticut schools, in East Hartford, Meriden and New London, were selected along with schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.

The timetable for the efforts included planning and workshops during the remainder of the 2012-2013 school year, with the new, improved, lengthened academic calendar to take hold when students returned in the fall of 2013.  The new school year – and implementation - is fast approaching.-working-at-desk-r

The TIME Collaborative is a partnership between the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) to develop high-quality and sustainable expanded learning time schools. Through the Collaborative, Ford and NCTL are investing in and supporting a select group of states that agree to harness state resources and federal funds using new flexibilities afforded by the federal waiver process to add 300 hours of additional learning time for all students in participating schools.

Ford is providing funds to build state, district and school capacity to support the initiative and is underwriting NCTL’s planning and implementation support to district and schools. Schools in the three Connecticut districts planning to implement the increased instruction time  include:

EAST HARTFORD Thomas S. O’Connell Elementary School

MERIDEN Casimir Pulaski Elementary School John Barry Elementary School

NEW LONDON Jennings Elementary School Winthrop Magnet Elementary School Nathan Hale Elementary School Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School

In the TIME Collaborative program, “high quality expanded learning time schools redesign the traditional school day/year to empower each student with the knowledge, skills, and experiences needed for success in college and career.”  The guidelines include seven areas of focus:

  • Focused school-wide goals
  • Rigorous Academics
  • Differentiated Supports
  • Frequent Data Cycles
  • Targeted Teacher development
  • Engaging enrichment
  • Improved School Culture

Selected districts and schools will have the opportunity to re-engineer their school schedule , and expand opportunities for learning, enrichment and collaboration to improve student achievement, engagement, and teacher effectiveness.  They are also eligible to receive annual capacity building grants and deep technical assistance on effective implementation from NCTL at no cost, as well as joining a network of pioneering educators from across the country.-Time-Leaning-logo

The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools in the five selected states, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities.

Plans called for the schools to implement a collaborative process that would involve the school districts, union leadership, teachers, community partners and parents.  The planning process would allow teams to develop an expanded-time schedule that provides a rigorous, well-rounded curriculum for all students; offers individualized help for students who are struggling; uses data and technology to inform and improve instruction; improves collaboration among teachers; provides enrichment opportunities in the arts, music and other areas critical to development; and promotes a culture of high achievement.

 A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning also contributing financial resources.  Just over 1,000 U.S. schools already operate on expanded schedules, an increase of 53 percent over 2009, according to a report from the National Center on Time & Learning.

“For districts that are falling behind, we want to give them the ability to implement the reforms that we know achieve results for students.  The additional funding we’re announcing today will allow for the intensive turnaround models that will help us close the nation’s largest achievement gap,” Governor Malloy said when the program was announced last December.

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