Community ponders downtown changes as start of work nears
Posted: December 5, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — With less than a month to go until construction begins on the Loudoun Street Mall, some downtown stakeholders gathered Tuesday to see the final plans and ask questions about the days ahead.
The city government held an open house for those interested in learning more about the $7.1 million mall improvements project that will begin Jan. 2.
Officials with general contractor HRI Inc. of State College, Pa., joined city engineers to show the construction drawings and answer questions about what to expect during the four-month project.
“People were just looking for more specifics about how the construction is going to work, what to expect initially,” said Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director. “Some just wanted to find out how access into the businesses is going to be handled.”
Thirty-two people had signed in as of 6 p.m., but Eisenach estimated that about 50 had passed through the Exhibit Hall at Rouss City Hall to see the plans and/or ask questions. A packet with the answers to 19 frequently asked questions about the project was available.
HRI is preparing to dig up the pedestrian mall, replace the underground utility lines and install new walkways and landscaping.
The company also will add five features requested by the Old Town Development Board: public restrooms; northern, southern and central gateway features; and a splash-pad fountain attraction.
Those features will cost $700,000; $50,000 a year will be deducted from the board’s budget until that amount is repaid.
The utility line and walkway replacement work is to be completed by April 30. HRI is to have all landscaping in place by May 31.
The desired construction completion date falls just before the 2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, but event officials have been given no guarantees that the work will be completed by that time. They are making other arrangements for the festival’s Midway, which normally lines the mall and spills onto Piccadilly Street.
John Rosenberger, executive director of the festival, said Piccadilly will continue to be used for the Midway and adjacent areas are being studied, too. He would not divulge any proposals, but said the plans could provide a bit more combined Midway space than in previous years.
Even after peering at the project illustrations and construction drawings for some time, Rosenberger said, he hasn’t figured out how the Midway might fit onto the mall in years to come.
“Loudoun Street is going to continue to evolve,” he said, “and we’re going to have to evolve with it. I’ve looked at the pictures and the plans, and it’s still kind of hard to picture it.
“Until the construction gets through and we can walk it, I don’t know if we’re going to know. What [the Midway] will be like in 2014, 2015, 2016 I don’t know.”
Rosenberger said future festivals might feature a hybrid of pre-construction and 2013 Midways.
Jason Lemire — an operations manager with HRI who will oversee the project — was also on hand to answer questions.
The company has established a local office, and Lemire said HRI officials have been working closely with city engineers since the contract was awarded.
“We’ve really attacked this project on the planning side,” he said.
Lemire said work will begin Jan. 2 at the Loudoun Street-Boscawen Street intersection and simultaneously move north and south from there. Demolition crews will be followed by crews installing utility lines, who will be followed by crews pouring concrete and placing pavers.
Construction is expected to take place on Mondays through Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Work won’t be done on Sundays unless necessary.
Despite the compressed time period for the project, Lemire said he is confident that only bad weather would cause HRI to miss its deadlines. The company does considerable work for Penn State University, he said, and university officials often want construction started and completed in the slower summer months.
Among the stakeholders attending the meeting was Jennifer Bell, who begins work next month as the city’s new downtown manager. She said she’s excited about the changes that will be just underway when she starts her new job.
“I think these are going to be wonderful improvements in the pedestrian mall,” she said. “I especially like the splash fountain. That’s going to draw a lot of people, especially children.”
— Contact Vic Bradshaw email@example.com