Archive for Wednesday, September 22, 1999

MISSISSIPPI STREET PROJECT PROVES TOUGHER THAN EXPECTED

September 22, 1999

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Michael Morley, who led the effort to restore the brick surface of Mississippi Street, says the project may be a bad example of how to preserve brick streets.

If he had it to do over again, Michael Morley says he would never have urged the city to restore the brick surface on the 700 block of Mississippi.

That's not to say he has soured on the idea of preserving brick streets. A member of Lawrence's Historic Resources Commission, Morley is urging the city to adopt an aggressive and systematic approach to restoring and maintaining brick streets.

But after looking at the time, money and labor involved in fixing Mississippi Street, Morley said he now fears it will be used as an argument against doing similar projects in the future.

"I was probably the lead person in getting the asphalt removed on Mississippi two or three years ago," Morley said Tuesday. "In retrospect, I think that was a mistake."

The Historic Resources Commission is scheduled to discuss a uniform brick street policy when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the city commission room at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts, but Morley said the discussion may be deferred until October.

Morley said his goal is to develop an inventory of brick streets in Lawrence, and to rank them by the cost and feasibility of preserving their original brick surface.

More than two years ago, residents along the 700 block of Mississippi peeled back the asphalt surface and discovered a brick street underneath that dated to the turn of the century.

Since the block is part of the Old West Lawrence district, an area listed on the National Register of Historic Places, residents decided they wanted to leave the original brick surface exposed.

That created massive problems, Morley said, because the original street was only a single layer of bricks set into a dirt foundation with some sand used to hold the bricks in place.

After the asphalt was removed, rain seeped through the bricks, softening the dirt foundation. Vehicle traffic then pounded deep ruts in the street, making it difficult for drivers to negotiate.

This year, the city agreed to repair the street with a new brick surface, but many people in other parts of Lawrence have questioned the time and expense involved in the project.

The city set aside about $125,000 in its street repair budget this year to fix the one block of Mississippi. The street was closed from Aug. 1 until mid-September while in-house crews removed the original bricks and laid a new concrete and asphalt foundation.

Now the city is involved in cleaning the old bricks so they can be placed back in the streets, and trying to round up enough additional bricks to lay a complete surface on the block. The city hopes to complete the project by November.

City Manager Mike Wildgen said one in-house staff person has been assigned to the brick-cleaning project. He said the city also is trying to arrange time on Saturdays so volunteers can help with the project to lower the cost.

Morley also is trying to line up volunteers to help with cleaning bricks.

"The biggest chance of a cost overrun for this project is in the cleaning and sorting of the removed bricks to get them ready to be relaid," he wrote in a recent e-mail to volunteers. "If city crews perform this slow task, it has the real chance to kill the whole idea for a long time to come."

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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