Work begins on mall renovation
Posted: January 3, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Before the sun rose Wednesday morning, crews had arrived to begin transforming the city’s downtown shopping and restaurant district into a temporary construction zone.
Workers with HRI Inc. arrived at 7 a.m. and took over the Loudoun Street Mall about an hour later as the mall infrastructure improvement project began. Construction is to continue through April 30; new trees, shrubs and flowers are to be planted from May 6 to May 31.
The primary goal of the $7.1 million project is to replace utility lines under the mall. When completed, the new surface will feature gateway entrances, a splash pad fountain and public bathrooms.
“I think it’s been outstanding,” Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director, said of the progress crews made on the first day of the project. “They were ready, they’d done a lot of planning, and I think they’ve hit the ground running.”
Jason Lemire, operations manager for State College, Pa.-based HRI, said work went well.
“I was going over the job with the superintendent,” he said, “and everything went as well as expected.”
Lemire said crews would be busy into Monday evening.
By midday, snow had been removed from the pedestrian mall, trees were being cut down on the south end, a concrete cutoff saw was tearing up the walking surface on north end, and temporary fencing that will shield the work area had been delivered to the site.
Crews installed that barrier in the afternoon.
Some shopkeepers and restaurateurs took extended holidays and missed the day’s commotion.
Among those avoiding the ruckus was Patti Johnson, who owns SEArenity Massage — a massage therapy center with a seaside atmosphere.
Johnson said she plays soft music during sessions and sometimes increases the volume to cover the sound of music from a neighboring business.
She said she hadn’t considered how having a loud construction zone outside her office for four months will affect the serenity of her sessions.
“I guess,” Johnson said, “I could ask my clients if they’d like some earplugs if it’s really bad.”
Noise isn’t the only inconvenience people will experience during the project. Boscawen Street is closed from Indian Alley to Loudoun Street and will remain that way for some time.
Eisenach said completing most of the work in the intersection so it can be reopened is a priority, but there’s no way to know how long that will take until crews dig out the area.
“It’s not like it’s going to be two months,” he said, “but it could be weeks.”
After the street is reopened to traffic, Eisenach said temporary closures might be necessary to finish off parts of the project.
Another annoyance will be the inability to cross between the east and west sides of the mall throughout the project. The temporary fencing will prevent such movements along the length of the mall except at Boscawen Street, which will be kept open for pedestrians.
Eisenach said city crews will manually carry trash and recycling left in front of buildings to city trucks until vehicles can drive on the mall surface again.
The city’s goal is to have the mall construction work completed before the 2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival — with its primary weekend set for May 3-5 — and HRI has considerable motivation to meet its deadlines.
Its contract with the city stipulates that if it meets both the construction and landscaping deadlines, the company will receive a $175,000 bonus. However, for each calendar day that it goes beyond either deadline, it must repay the city $8,500.
The contract includes language defining allowances for large amounts of snow or ice.
Merchants or residents with questions about the project are invited to attend weekly update meetings, which will be held at 9 a.m. each Wednesday in the fourth-floor Exhibit Hall at City Hall.
The city also announced Wednesday that it has scheduled a “First Friday Dig” at 4 p.m. Friday to celebrate the start of the project. The event will be held in front of the Old Court House Civil War Museum at 20 N. Loudoun St.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org