Digging a big, deep hole in the center of downtown Lawrence can get tricky, and soon it may add a wrinkle to the routes of local motorists as well.
Excavation work for the multistory Marriott hotel and retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire has been shut down for about three weeks. Now project leaders are saying they'll temporarily need to close a portion of New Hampshire Street to get the project restarted.
The development group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor are seeking city permission to bury a storm sewer beneath New Hampshire Street in order to allow construction crews to resume excavating for the building's underground parking garage.
"This really comes down to ensuring that we have a safe construction site," said Micah Kimball, the project's architect with Lawrence-based Treanor Architects.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are being asked to choose one of two options for the work that will take place on New Hampshire Street between Ninth Street and the midblock crosswalk near the Lawrence Arts Center:
• Close the stretch of street to all traffic to allow crews the maximum flexibility to complete the project. With a complete closure, work is expected to take about two weeks to complete.
• Reduce traffic on the stretch of New Hampshire Street to one lane, southbound. The stretch of street would be closed to northbound traffic. Work is expected to take about three weeks to complete with the partial closure.
Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, said the main entrance to the city's parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street would remain open during the stormwater project. He also said the midblock pedestrian crossing for the Arts Center also would be open.
Soules said his office isn't making a recommendation on which option city commissioners should choose. But he said if commissioners choose the partial closure, it may affect traffic during a major KU home football weekend.
Under either scenario, crews want to begin construction on Oct. 7. If the project stretches to two weeks, it will take place during a time period when KU doesn't have a home football game. If the project stretches to three weeks, the street likely will be closed during the weekend of Oct. 19, when KU plays hosts to Oklahoma.
The block of New Hampshire Street is busy during KU football games because the adjacent parking garage serves as one of the free parking and loading zones for the game shuttle buses between downtown and Memorial Stadium.
The storm sewer project wasn't anticipated when commissioners approved plans for the hotel project earlier this year. Kimball said the storm sewer project became necessary when it became obvious the excavation company would need to take additional measures to ensure the stability of the side walls of the deep hole, which will house two levels of below-ground parking.
The construction company is sidestepping the edge of the hole to create greater sidewall stability to protect crews working at the bottom of the hole from a possible collapse. That sidestepping procedure, though, will cause excavation work to interfere with an existing storm sewer that runs along the edge of New Hampshire Street.
Kimball and engineers are now recommending that the existing storm sewer be replaced with a new storm sewer that runs underneath New Hampshire Street.
Cost estimates for the relocation weren't immediately available, but Soules said the work would be done entirely at the developer's expense.
"We understand the need for it," Soules said. "It is what needs to be done for the safety of the workers."
Kimball said the hotel project also has been delayed by utility relocations that have to take place along the alley adjacent to the site. He said that work is nearly complete, and crews should be able to resume work on digging the hole soon. He estimated crews have another six to eight feet to dig in some places.
Work on the five-story, 65-foot tall building is expected to be completed by late 2014. When finished, it will house a 91-room Marriott Towne Place extended stay hotel and additional downtown retail space.
City commissioners will meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the issue.