Open house planned as utility work nears
Posted: November 24, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Thirty-nine days.
That’s the time remaining before work begins to replace utility infrastructure on the Loudoun Street Mall.
Beginning Jan. 2, crews from HRI Inc. of State College, Pa., and its subcontractors will begin tearing up the pedestrian mall — a downtown fixture since 1974 — to reach underground lines.
The work will make navigating the mall challenging at times, and merchants and restaurateurs fear sales will suffer dramatically until the bulk of the project is completed at the end of April.
Business owners who want to know more about the project will have a chance to ask questions and obtain information Dec. 4. That’s when officials from the city government and HRI will be available in the Exhibit Hall at Rouss City Hall from 4 to 7 p.m. for an open house.
“The open house is designed to provide information and answer questions,” City Manager Dale Iman said this week. “If you’re a stakeholder downtown — if you live there, if you run a business there, if you own property there — and you don’t attend that meeting, you miss a chance to get the most up-to-date information about what to expect on Jan. 2 and in the weeks preceding that in preparation for the construction phase.”
Underground water, sewer, stormwater and electrical lines will be replaced during the primary four months of construction. The $6.4 million cost for that work and reassembling a walkable, landscaped mall is being covered by water and sewer service rate increases.
Gateway entrances, public bathrooms and a splashpad fountain area where children can play during warm weather will be added to the mall. The $700,000 cost for those amenities initially will be covered with city funds, but $50,000 a year will be deducted from the Old Town Development Board’s budget to pay for them.
City Engineer Kelly Henshaw said the contract with HRI calls for everything but the landscaping work to be completed by the end of April. The company’s deadline is the end of May for planting trees, shrubs and flowers.
At the open house, final plans for the project will be available so attendees can see how the new mall design might affect areas near their business or abode.
As they have with several downtown projects — most recently the work this year along Indian Alley — Henshaw said city officials will hold weekly meetings to field questions and provide information about the mall work. The meetings are open to the public and will be held on a day and at a time to be determined.
Iman said the city’s Web page about the project also will be updated regularly and the downtown manager will be very visible in the construction zone to help resolve issues. But all that won’t alleviate the inconvenience of having work under way along virtually the entire length of the mall for four months.
“Because of the compressed schedule for the project,” he said, “it will be very difficult not to have inconveniences. We’ll have five- or six-foot sidewalks up against the buildings and the middle will be a construction zone, off limits.
“We’re going to take every precaution we can to make sure utilities are not disrupted.”
Despite the challenges the project presents, Henshaw believes the discussions and planning for the work have been under way for so long that merchants are ready for it to start, so it can be finished and the new amenities can be enjoyed.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw email@example.com