It is a youthful workout, that’s for sure.
In the small town of Holton, about 45 minutes north of Lawrence, it has become a ritual of sorts for high school students to head down to City Hall to apply for what surely must be one of the more physically demanding summer jobs, but evidently one of the more sought-after as well: bricklayer.
“We have more people apply than we can hire,” said Rex Cameron, street superintendent for the town of about 3,500 people.
A crew of six to eight youths spends the summer cleaning, sorting, hauling and laying bricks as part of an annual program to rebuild one to two blocks of the city’s seven miles of brick streets.
Now, some Lawrence residents are wondering whether such a program could work in Lawrence. If not, they’re wondering what would because they say the city needs some sort of plan to maintain or rehabilitate Lawrence’s 46 miles of brick streets.
“I don’t think it is just an east Lawrence issue,” said Deron Belt, a member of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association who has been studying the brick street issue. “I think in any neighborhood that has brick streets, there’s a pretty strong incentive to keep them.
“I think any creative technique the city can come up with would be a good answer to the issue.”
The topic is set to get some attention at City Hall. A recent city audit recommended that Lawrence create a policy for deciding how to maintain its brick streets. The audit noted that some of the lower ranking streets in the city’s pavement condition index system are brick. That’s because the city doesn’t have a policy on whether those streets should be simply paved over, rebuilt as brick streets, or rebuilt as concrete or asphalt streets.
“We are going to need to do something as we get to those streets,” City Manager David Corliss said recently. “I know they add a lot of value to neighborhoods. We have to find a way to balance that value with the fact that we only have so much money for street maintenance.”
Cost concerns have prevented the city from rebuilding more brick streets. Corliss estimates that rebuilding the streets can cost two to three times more than more modern methods of street construction or repair. But supporters of brick streets counter that maintenance costs of a well-constructed brick street can be much lower over time.
That’s been the experience in Holton, said City Manager Bret Bauer.
“If you do it right, it should last a very long time with very little maintenance,” Bauer said.
Lawrence has done two brick street projects in recent years — one along Ohio Street and the other along New York Street. Both projects used bricks that were more than 70 years old and were still in good condition. The streets had failed because the base under the bricks had deteriorated.
Holton leaders also are finding that constructing brick streets doesn’t have to be as expensive as once believed. Holton spends about $20,000 to $50,000 a year to rebuild one block of brick street, with costs varying based on how much concrete work crews have to do before the brick can be laid by the youths.
But Cameron said the fact the city uses the youth crews — plus the concrete work is done by full-time city employees rather than contractors — is a significant cost savings.
A Lawrence city block is wider and longer than one in Holton, but Lawrence spent about $200,000 per block to redo the brick on New York Street last summer, according to city engineers.
Cameron said the program produces other benefits, too.
“The kids learn a lot and are proud of a job they have done for their community,” he said. “And they’re definitely in better shape.”
Lawrence hasn’t set a timeline for developing a brick street policy. Corliss and city engineers have said one of the first steps will be to review how many brick streets there are in the city that have been paved over with asphalt. Those streets — which include parts of Tennessee, 11th, 12th and 13th streets — likely won’t be good candidates to return to all-brick. But the remaining bricks from those streets could be used to rebuild brick streets in other parts of the community, city engineers have proposed.