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Streetscape hammers forward

By Staff | Feb 3, 2009

Bricklayers install new sidewalks along German Street in Shepherdstown. Photo by James P. Whipple/Chronicle

What lies beneath the sidewalks and streets of Shepherdstown?

Streetscape Project Manager John Brady has encountered a little bit of everything as workers with Building Systems Inc. of Hagerstown demolish the notoriously rough sidewalks and precipitous curbs along German Street.

In addition to the standard challenges of working in solid limestone formations without shutting down traffic or commerce in a downtown business district, Brady is charged with meeting a budget and a timeline for the $990,000 project.

There are always unexpected challenges.

Brady has found a utility pole 50-percent rotted at its base, a broken main sewer line, numerous water line leaks and abandoned metal and terra-cotta pipes – each of which has been addressed as the work crew makes its way eastward toward the June goal of total replacement of all sidewalks, curbs and trees on both sides of German Street from Church Street to Princess Street.

But Brady, who lives off Shepherd Grade Road, comes well-prepared for the task. He advanced to head the General Engineering Department for Congress at the U.S. Capitol during his 30-year career. The post was part of the Architect of the Capitol’s Office.

During his time in Washington, Brady – who also serves on the Shepherdstown Water Board – specialized in difficult construction projects that involved multiple disciplines and utilities. He brings that knowledge to the table as he oversees the work dowtown.

Streetscape project workers had to jackhammer through solid rock at the intersection of Church and German streets to create a stormwater control system and install pipes 2 feet under the curb extensions, under Church Street and another set of curb extensions.

This heavy rock work has set the project behind by several weeks, but the contractor added a second work crew at the King Street intersection on Jan. 12 to make up time.

Brady says the project will be done by the end-of-June deadline, and the budget will be met.

“We should get a lot quicker,” he says. “On the other hand, there’s a lot more utilities in the way” at King Street. “Presently, it’s hard for me to be optimistic; I’m hopeful.”

Two crews – nine workers with Building Systems Inc. – and additional bricklayers with Gruber Latimer Restoration of Williamsport, Md., are now working on the project, compared to the single, two- to three-man crew when the project began in September, Brady says.

“The contractor has shown a desire to meet the schedule by starting this second crew,” Brady says, adding he hopes to be back on schedule in March. “He sees what we’re up against, and he’s responding.”

Brady says he has opted for much of the work to be done with smaller equipment to avoid shutting down commerce, noting large excavation equipment would close German Street.

“It’s a heavy hit, and I’m trying to avoid that as much as possible. … It can be done faster, but there’s a price to pay, and the price is business.”

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Shepherdstown Mayor Arthur “Jim” Auxer III was in an earlier term as mayor in 2004 when money was first being set aside to repair downtown streets.

At the time, the talk was of milling and repaving road surfaces, Auxer recalls, “and then it morphed into Streetscape. … We still need the streets milled and repaved.”

The town government is attempting to upgrade and replace much of Shepherdstown’s aging infrastructure, from streets to sewer and waters lines and even has proposed construction of a new $1 million town hall.

In conjunction with the Streetscape work at King and German streets, overhead utility lines will be buried on King Street leading toward Shepherd University. The project is a joint effort between the town and the university.

Upgrades to the water distribution system are ongoing, and study has begun on a multi-million dollar sewer plant upgrade.

But the Streetscape project will address pedestrian safety. The Corporation of Shepherdstown has been sued several times by people who have been injured after tripping on the hazardous curbs and uneven sidewalks.

“I’m concerned about the safety of everyone that walks through town,” Auxer said. “There are a lot of safety issues, and we’re trying to clear them up. Having said that, there are other areas that are in dire need of repairs. So we’ll be looking at that in the future.”

Early on in discussions about Streetscape funding, the idea of assessing fees to property owners was raised to offset any costs outside the $990,000 budget. But Auxer says that idea has not recently been considered an option.

“Our goal is not to do anything but keep it on budget,” Auxer says. “People are being pretty cooperative… We are doing the best we can to keep up with the schedule and not cause a disruption to anybody’s business or their life.”