City removes mall compass; cracking cited

Posted: October 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

The installation of the compass on the Loudoun Street Mall was finished April 19. A week later, vehicular traffic had already made it begin to crack. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
The cracked stone compass was removed from the intersection of Boscawen Street and the Loudoun Street Mall on a recent weekend. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Westwood Contractors employees Greg Nixon (left) and Steve Hayzlett, both of Newport News, use brooms to spread stone-locking sand after installing the new granite compass on the Loudoun Street Mall on April 19 at its intersection with Boscawen Street. A week later, heavy vehicles had already begun to crack the feature. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The Loudoun Street Mall has lost its direction.

Or at least its direction finder.

The granite compass once located at the intersection of Loudoun and Boscawen streets has been moved because of persistent cracking problems. Standard bricks now form the walking and driving surface.

Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director, said torque created when delivery vehicles turned from Loudoun onto Boscawen street was to blame for the recent cracking problems. With no way to resolve that issue, the compass was removed and bricks were installed on Oct. 13.

“We talked to the material providers and did some of our own research,” he said. “We found that what really was best was to replace it with bricks.”

Compass cracking was an issue almost immediately after the mall surface was replaced early this year as part of a $7.1 million utility project that included the installation of new features on the mall.

It was determined that the granite hadn’t been installed properly in that instance, so the compass was replaced. HRI Inc., the State College, Pa., company in charge of the mall project, was responsible for that work.

The street was opened back up, with pedestrians and vehicles passing over it for more than a month. That included delivery trucks, which travel eastward along Boscawen Street through the intersection daily.

But the section of Loudoun Street between Cork and Piccadilly streets remained closed to delivery vehicles temporarily while City Council decided whether it wanted to allow them back onto the pedestrian mall. Eventually they were allowed to return, but with a few added restrictions in place, including the elimination of afternoon delivery hours.

That’s when the cracks came back.

“They started showing up again,” Eisenach said, “two days after the delivery vehicles came back on the mall.”

Thinking it still might be an installation problem, HRI was asked to install the compass for a third time. They did, but the cracks returned.

“It was not the weight (of the trucks) because traffic had been going straight across and it had been fine,” Eisenach said. “But that turning movement, the torque it created, the granite cannot hold up to that because the tires are turning right where it breaks.

“We realized it was just not going to work right there, so we replaced it with bricks.”

Patton’s Masonry of Edinburg was hired to do the replacement for the city because the problem obviously was not HRI’s fault. Eisenach said the cost was a couple of thousand dollars.

Lauri Bridgeforth, chairwoman of the Old Town Development Board (OTDB), said she found out about the change as she was walking on the mall.

The compass was a feature the OTDB asked to have incorporated in the design, but she said the change is understandable.

“I think it’s better to have straight brick there than to have something that keeps repeatedly breaking,” she said. “If it’s just not working design-wise, you’ve got to take it out.”

The city has the granite that was removed, Eisenach said, so it could be installed elsewhere in the future. HRI provided the granite as part of its contractual obligations.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@ winchesterstar.com