Public art is still on the table in the long-debated reconstruction project for the easternmost section of East Ninth Street, and an ultimate decision will likely be made as part of budget discussions this spring.
The Lawrence City Commission indicated at its work session Tuesday it would like to compromise on plans for the East Ninth project by modifying a basic design proposed by city staff to include some of the more artistic elements of the original design.
“I think this has been a great discussion tonight,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said. “I do believe we’re going to wind up somewhere — whether it’s in the middle or somewhere south or north, we’re going to find out. I do want to see the art aspect of it addressed in the plan.”
Whether the commission will work down from the original 81-page plan, which included various integrated artistic elements, or up from the city’s basic street plan was not determined. Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who was one of two commissioners in favor of the original plan, said that he thought they should work down by determining which elements to include from the original design, which has gone through various committee and review processes.
“There’s hours and hours and hours into this to get here and have five commissioners sit up here and say, ‘Well, forget all that, here’s an idea: Why don’t we do this and why don’t we do this,’” Herbert said. “That’s pretty frustrating on that end of the table.”
The original plan for the street reconstruction and public art project was estimated to cost more than $3.5 million. Following a work session discussion last year, the commission directed city staff to scale the project down to the basic street project. The basic proposal, estimated to cost $1.88 million, calls for a traditional street reconstruction: new curb and gutter, storm sewer, and sidewalks on both sides of the street, including the restoration of existing brick sidewalks.
City engineers said the proposal was a minimalist design, similar to how the street is today, and does not include the cost of bike lanes or decorative streetlights. Installation of decorative streetlights on both sides of Ninth Street would add $200,000. If bike lanes were added, another $200,000 would be required to widen the street, unless on-street parking were removed, City Engineer David Cronin said.
The original design for the project took about a year and half to establish and was due to be funded in part by a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant awarded to the Lawrence Arts Center. The grant is specifically designated for the artistic portions of the project and cannot be used to fund basic construction such as what is outlined in the city's street plan.
Arts Center leaders are requesting that the city contribute a $500,000 match to support integrated, artistic elements of the project from the original design. The suggested artistic additions are $225,000 for landscaping, $300,000 for lighting and $60,000 for street furniture. Artist fees and supplies would cost $85,000, and burying overhead power lines would cost $330,000.
Kimberly Williams, CEO of the Arts Center, told the commission that the center's staff believes there is valuable material in the original design, and that it’s possible to incorporate parts of it into the city’s simplified street reconstruction plan. The plan proposed by the Arts Center would cost the city approximately $2.3 million, or $2.5 million if bike paths were included.
The project is not currently funded in the 2017-2021 capital improvement plan, and the commission would have to reallocate funding at a future meeting if the project were to proceed. Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said he believed the commission was closer than it's ever been to getting the project done, but that the funding had to be figured out.
“Not only do we have to figure out how much it’s going to cost, but we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” Boley said. He added that that decision can’t be made in a vacuum, and that funding put toward East Ninth would mean less for another project.
City staff will bring more design options back to the commission at an upcoming meeting, and Markus warned commissioners that they need to be ready to make a decision soon. In preparation for the next meeting to discuss the project, he asked commissioners to think about which artistic elements they would like to include, as well as the maximum amount they are willing to spend on the project.
“If you’re going to have art and you’re going to use the money from the grant, I think the time crunch is upon us,” Markus said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision, and the reality is you’re not going to appease everybody, like most decisions.”
In other business, the commission:
• Received an update on the development of the Douglas County Food System Plan, led by the Douglas County Food Policy Council. The draft plan provides strategic recommendations in five goal areas: regional agricultural and food sector economy; natural resource conservation; food access and eliminating food deserts; affordable and culturally-appropriate food; and minimization of waste. The final plan will be presented to the city and Douglas County commissions for joint adoption in the spring.