By Maxim Tamarov
It was Tuesday afternoon and two P. Gioioso & Sons construction vehicles were circling around Harold E. French Square, working on a segment of the Center Business District (CBD) construction project.
The CBD project, which aims to replace decaying infrastructure and upgrade the water main, sewer, drain, roadway, sidewalk, and streetscapes of the business district, is about a quarter of the way done. Slated for completion in late 2021, it has been a necessary nuisance for the adjacent shops and restaurants.
“It definitely affects our business,” Shahid Mahmud, owner of Square Market, said of the work being done outside his store. Between morning and 3 p.m., he said, “Nobody can get in here.”
Winthrop Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Shane said that the businesses that she’d spoken with, told her the construction company, P. Gioioso & Sons, Inc., was easy to work with and understanding of their needs.
Other businesses in the area have not felt the effects of the CBD project because they already had seen a decrease in their business volume because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Such is the case with Roger Oliveira, owner of Winthrop Cafe. Covid-19 hit his business hard, he said, so he was grateful for the CBD work happening when his business was already slow. Oliveira added that the CBD project would benefit his business directly. The cafe’s basement, he said, regularly flooded and he hoped the construction would put an end to that.
Oliveira also said that he hoped the end of construction would coincide with the pandemic running its course.
Work on the CBD project was started in April this year and is slated to be completed in November of next year.
The $13.2 million project was funded by a combination of grants and bond proceeds, according to Winthrop CFO Anna Freedman. About $3 million of the financing will come from grants and will not need to be paid back. The remainder will come from bonds afforded by the revenues collected from water and sewer rates.
The water and sewer rate increase in February 2019, Freedman wrote in an email to the Sun-Transcript, was set to facilitate the payments for this project.
The CBD project is currently in Phase 4, which includes the sewer, water and drain improvements on Woodside Avenue (French Square to Pleasant Street), Adams Street, and Williams Street and Bartlett Road (French Square to Pleasant Street).
The project has been broken down into nine phases, ending with sidewalk, landscaping, and electrical improvements on Somerset Avenue (Woodside Avenue to Pleasant Street) and Cottage Park Road (Somerset Avenue to Pleasant Street).
All the piping and infrastructure, according to Project Superintendent Frank Fruci, will be done this year. The pandemic, he said, has not slowed the construction much.
Because construction was started after the coronavirus had begun its tour of the country, Fruci’s team has adopted strict safety guidelines such as distancing when possible, wearing masks, and checking temperatures before shifts from the get-go.
“I feel that we’ve done a very good job keeping public health and safety as priority one,” Steve Calla, Winthrop’s Director of Public Works, wrote in an email to the Sun-Transcript.
The goal of the CBD project is not only to replace old infrastructure, officials say, although that is important. The project also aims to make sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to provide new seating areas, and to make sure that all utilities fully support public health and address the challenges posed by climate change.
Mahmud said that he knew the project was necessary, but added that he’d prefer it if the construction was going on at night. Calla acknowledged that not everyone is 100 percent on board. The complaints, he said, are and will continue to be addressed as they are received.
“All construction projects are inconvenient and frustrating to abutters,” Calla said. ”This project is no different.”
Maxim Tamarov is a freelance reporter covering coronavirus and environmental issues for the Winthrop Sun Transcript. Send comments or story ideas to [email protected]