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The Day – New London prepares to begin demolition of Crystal Avenue skyscrapers

New London — City Council has authorized the borrowing of $700,000 to cover a funding shortfall that has delayed completion of the demolition of the Thames River Apartments complex on Crystal Avenue.

The council on Monday authorized Mayor Michael Passero to sign an amended contract with Stamford Wrecking Company as an emergency measure, “to meet an urgent public need to preserve public health and safety by immediately commencing the demolition of buildings.” .

The move clears the way for demolition to begin this week. City officials are expected to gather at the site at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The first phase of the demolition, which included the removal of much of the hazardous materials such as asbestos tiles, was completed in October. However, work had stalled, due to soaring costs for transporting and disposing of hazardous waste.

Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the market had changed and with rising costs it was becoming more difficult to find an approved site for debris disposal. “When landfills reach their maximum capacity, prices go up. We were caught up in something out of control,” he said.

Demolition costs increased by $581,090, with additional monitoring costs of $127,000.

When controlled demolition begins, it will be done gradually and selectively, as the buildings still contain hazardous materials such as lead paint and PCBs. Parts of the building, such as stairwells with lead paint, will be separated from other materials. Some of the material is shipped to a landfill in New Hampshire.

The state had covered all of the initial cost estimate of $3.7 million for the demolition and cleanup of the site. Council agreed on Monday to include the necessary $700,000 in the city’s annual borrowing program associated with the 2022 capital improvement plan. The capital improvement plan in which demolition was included totals 2 $.67 million and includes various infrastructure projects.

Councilor John Satti initially expressed his displeasure with the decision, but eventually voted in favor. “When the Thames River Apartments deal started many years ago we were assured there was more than enough money to complete the project and the money to demolish would in fact be covered,” did he declare. “To date, we are now seeing cost overruns of $700,000.”

Councilors hope the demolition will end an era in the city that some officials say was a policy that served to store the poor.

Thames River Apartments is a former federally subsidized 124-unit complex for low-income families. It was run by the New London Housing Authority and routinely the target of complaints about poor living conditions and crime. A concerted effort was made in 2018 to evacuate and condemn the buildings. The city bought the property after residents were helped to move out with federal housing vouchers.

Passero said he planned to bring the demolition funding request to council at a later date. He accelerated that plan following a fire in one of the buildings last week. A squatter was found inside one of the condemned structures.

Fire Chief Thomas Curcio said vacant buildings pose a risk to residents and firefighters, especially when it’s necessary to search the building to check for squatters. “With any structural fire, there’s always the possibility of someone staying inside the building,” he said. “In a smoky atmosphere, holes in the floors and open elevator shafts represent a great danger for our firefighters. In this case, the elevator shafts were open in these buildings.

Councilor James Burke said Monday that “it is an unfortunate situation that we are here. It’s not normal for us to spend $700,000 on a project that we think is fully paid for.

But, Burke continued, the urgency to continue demolition is for the safety of our community and our first responders.

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