Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cost to transform Market Square to a pedestrian plaza rises

Design by Hist: Re Partners LLC to transform Market Square to a pedestrian plaza.

At last week’s city council meeting city engineer Phil Shermer briefed council on the complexity of the underground interstate highway of utilities that lays deep beneath Market Square. The square is directly across from the Market Building and mostly accommodates 24 parking spaces when not used for weekend events.

The area lays in a flood plain and though larger drainage pipes were installed beneath the streets around the Market Building during its renovation the other side of Campbell Avenue has yet to be addressed. That is only part of the reason for more than doubling the cost estimate to change Market Square into a pedestrian plaza.

On July 2, 2012 then DRI, Inc. president Sean Luther sold city council on the plaza at an estimated price tag of $250,000. Councilman Court Rosen thought the $250,000 estimate was a reasonable investment and called it “the next evolution of the square.”

City manager Chris Morrill said in July that the city had several million dollars in the “economic development reserve” to cover the cost. There was also the possibility of dipping into the capital contingency fund or paying for it with leftover funds at year-end.

Phil Shermer broke the news that after months of study the preliminary estimate for the conversion would cost more like $650,000 and could increase even more if AEP decides that being a good corporate citizen doesn’t stretch charitable giving quite that far. Three vents need to be raised that cover AEP’s underground vault to accommodate the height of pavers integral to making the plaza pedestrian friendly.

Lucas Thornton with Hist: Re Partners LLC brought a revised design of the plaza to the November 19 council meeting. The design extends new market canopies into the plaza and adds canopies along Campbell Avenue that would add to retail space overall. There is a passable driveway isle connection to Market Street and a new curb line along Campbell Avenue that will leave space for drive up customers.

Downtown flooding was the primary infrastructure challenge for the citizen-initiated project explained Shermer. Besides the obvious change from parking lots to pedestrian space the proposal includes trees, green space, lighting and patterned paving that would tie into the Market Building design.

Photo of Market Square taken from the Market Building in 2011.

The engineering study of the underground utilities for electrical, water, gas, communication links and storm drainage was hurriedly completed to assess the practicability of the project and its cost said Shermer.

Foremost was the 20-30 foot underground AEP vault that occupies most of one side of the square and provides electrical service to much of downtown. “Underground it is completely covered up with every utility you can imagine,” said Shermer. “The big one for us is this underground vault.”

The large vault has three surface visible vents on top with a lot of equipment inside. The concrete paver solution requires raising the airway vent stacks at AEP vaults. “We are very optimistic and hopeful that they will help us do that without cost to the project,” said Shermer. It is significant work for them to do.

A raised patterned paving system also creates a storm drainage challenge. All improvements must be long lasting and leave no room for disturbing the plaza after completion by cutting and digging underneath said Shermer.

A contractor dug eight test holes into the square to determine what exactly they would be facing underneath.  The good news was the pavement is in good condition and the 8-10 inch thick concrete foundation is fairly even and will serve as a good foundation for the plaza pavers.

The bad news was that the storm drains that connect to Campbell Avenue had cracks and deteriorating pipes that will be costly to replace. “It’s very challenging to build storm drains structures downtown because of all the other utilities that are there,” said Shermer.

The preliminary estimated cost of $650,000 is for a concrete paver solution that includes repair of all the storm drains and replacement of sidewalks around 202 Market. “Storm Drain, utilities, pavers, street trees, street lights, electrical conduit – it adds up pretty quickly,” said Shermer. New farmers’ tables are a part of the cost as well he said. All the features are incorporated and ready to put out for bid.

Some traffic study still needs to be completed to ensure trucks can service other businesses on Market Street. “There is adequate maneuvering space to get the farm type pickup truck vehicles in and out of that space,” said Shermer.

The paving color needs to be selected and final specifications have not yet been completed but “the overall concept works pretty well,” said Shermer. The project will need coordination with other projects like Center in the Square and a water main upgrade project. Biding on the project is targeted for January 2013 with construction commencing in March and completion in June to coincide with Center in the Square’s grand opening.

Lucas Thornton said seven public hearings with farmers; restaurant owners, the public and other businesses were conducted during the design phase. It is a very important step forward with the other development downtown he said. Thornton asked council to keep in mind when looking at the cost – “There is no place in our city that is so visible.”

Vice Mayor Court Rosen was a skeptical of the price tag. Shermer said he felt fairly positive that AEP would work with the city on raising the vents but was unsure if it would be cost free.

When asked by Rosen Interim DRI president Steve Musselwhite said that there was a $245,000 HUD grant that needed to be spent on the market by September 2013 or they would lose it. The grant can be used toward the cost of the project.

Councilman Dave Trinkle was concerned that with all the other projects that they too could go over budget all at the same time. Elmwood Park construction bidding had resulted in an increase of about $1 million over the estimate.

Morrill said that a “budget adjustment” would need to be approved by council before bids could go out. Shermer will work with AEP and prepare designs for bid. Morrill will look at funding options to present to council in December.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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Comments (1)

Bubba Greene

November 27th, 2012 at 8:44 AM    

Go figure! A public project with an initial cost estimate gets approval and SHAZAAM!!! Soon thereafter the estimate grows 3 X. But that’s no reason for concern. We’ll just go out and get some “GRANT MONEY”. Maybe pick it off all those little dead trees at H’burger / 581 exchange. See how it works. Get a grant to plant trees that die and then pick the dollars off the ground.

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