Face-lift of downtown mall begins Wednesday
Posted: December 29, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — After nearly four decades, one of the signature features of the downtown area is ready for its face-lift.
Crews will descend on the Loudoun Street Mall on Wednesday to begin work on a long-planned infrastructure improvement project. The pedestrian mall will be torn up and some underground utility lines replaced.
If all goes as planned, the replacement project and installation of the new walkway and other amenities will be completed by the end of April. The project’s contractor, HRI Inc. of State College, Pa., will have until the end of May to get new landscaping in place.
The goal of getting all the work done before the 2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival — set for April 26-May 5 — means there’s little time to waste, so planning is important for the project.
“I’m confident that our preparation — the city’s and the contractor’s — are complete and we’re ready to go,” City Manager Dale Iman said last week. “Anything other than that is a roll of the dice, and it’s anyone’s guess about the weather, which could affect the project.”
Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director, said recently that workers would start removing the furniture from restaurant cafe areas beginning Wednesday. That was the last big item the city government had to take care of before construction commences on the first major renovation since the mall was built in 1974.
Furthermore, he said, HRI officials seem prepared to begin work. The company has pipe and plywood temporary fencing stashed at the City Yards, and workers have begun making the planters that will line the mall.
“I think we’ve done as much as we possibly can to prepare,” Eisenach said. “I think HRI has really done an excellent job getting ready over the past two months.”
The project’s $7.1 million cost includes $700,000 in new above-ground amenities. Gateway entrances at the north, south and center of the mall; public restrooms; and a splash-pad water fountain attraction are being added to the streetscape.
Crews are expected to work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the project.
Jason Lemire, operations manager for HRI, said 20 to 25 people will be working in the mall area when construction starts. The most intense activity will be near the intersection of Loudoun and Boscawen streets; crews simultaneously will work north and south from that midpoint.
During the first four days, Lemire said, crews will move equipment into the construction area and set up the temporary walkways about five feet off the face of each store.
Trees that must be removed will be felled, and crews will begin tearing up the mall’s surface.
Eisenach said the pedestrian fencing will be similar to temporary walkways installed when Charlottesville worked on its pedestrian mall in 2009.
At the peak of construction, Lemire said, about 50 workers from HRI and some of the six project subcontractors will be on the mall daily.
HRI has a construction schedule in place to guide the project, but it is subject to change.
“We know where we want to be by certain dates,” Lemire said, “but things may come up and we’ll have to adjust. A lot of factors come into that, such as weather.”
Shoppers and diners are advised to use the rear entrances to buildings when possible and to follow the walkways when on the mall.
“They need to stay out of the construction zone for their safety and the workers’ safety as well,” Lemire said.
HRI is committed to keeping business disruptions to a minimum, he added, but some inconveniences will be unavoidable. Crews eventually must work directly in front of building doors.
Lemire said the crews will do all they can to work with business owners during the project.
Eisenach has overseen a number of major enterprises in his six years with the city government, including multiple utility projects throughout the locality. But the mall project is something different.
“I think it’s safe to say,” he said, “that this is the most challenging project that we’ve undertaken since I’ve been here.”
The scope of the underground and restoration work combined with the compressed time frame is challenging enough, he said.
Add the importance of maintaining access to the mall businesses and that much of the work will be conducted in the winter and the project becomes more complex.
“We’re not going to breathe easy or slow down until it’s done,” Eisenach said. “It’s going to take a sustained effort from the very beginning to get it done right and get it done on time.
“It’ll be a marathon where we’re sprinting the whole time.”
Updates will be posted periodically on the Web page city officials created for the project — winchesterva.gov/utilities/loudoun-street-project.php.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw at email@example.com