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API Foils files plans for expansion in East Hills Business Park; latest timetable for Wakarusa roundabout; more news on super-fast broadband
Coming out of this Memorial Day weekend, there are at least two things to keep an eye on: the bathroom scale, after copious amounts of potato salad, and the check-engine light, after I used the Taurus to demonstrate how I would have run the Indy 500.
Well, let's add a third: An expansion project for a manufacturer in Lawrence's East Hills business park. A building permit has been issued for API Foils at 3841 Greenway Circle. I have reached out, but haven't yet caught up with the company's leadership to learn more details.
Information from the permit application, though, indicates the project consists of a 4,000-square-foot expansion, primarily for additional manufacturing space. The permit lists the amount of construction work at about $980,000.
The big question I hope to answer in the coming days is whether the expansion will result in any new jobs. Perhaps your big question is what does API Foils do? No, it doesn't involve the tin foil you used to wrap the ribs from this weekend. It doesn't even involve the tin foil you used to create your fireproof driver's suit for the Indy 500.
Instead, API Foils makes foils that are used in multiple ways in the packaging industry. Think of the shiny type of packaging used in a variety of products. The company's website lists the alcohol, tobacco, perfume, cosmetics, candy and health care industries as major users of their products. The company also is in the holographic printing business, providing the complex holographic seals that are often used on tickets, credit cards and other items that are at risk of being counterfeited.
The company is based in England, but in 2012 the firm's North American headquarters were moved to Lawrence from New Jersey. Prior to the move, the company had 52 employees in Lawrence, and the headquarters operations were expected to add another 17. I don't have a current employee total for the company.
Regardless of what the job impact is from this latest expansion, the project appears to be good news for Lawrence because it further strengthen's the company's local presence. API Foils operates 15 locations across the globe, but Lawrence is one of only five manufacturing locations for the company.
When I get more information about the project, I'll pass it along.
In other news and notes from around town:
• My neighbors will appreciate that by this time next year there will be a new location in the area for me to go round and round as I demonstrate my Indy 500 prowess. I'm talking about the proposed dual-lane roundabout at Wakarusa Drive and Inverness/Legends Drive.
Well, now we have a few more details about the timeline for the project. A new report from the city engineer indicates design work is complete, and the project is expected to be put out to bid on June 4. That would allow for construction to begin in July, with an estimated completion date of November. During the construction project, the city plans to keep one lane of traffic open in each direction on Wakarusa.
As for the roundabout design, the plans call for each lane of the roundabout to be 15 feet wide, which is a bit wider than normal traffic lanes the city builds these days. Also planned for the roundabout is a 12-foot "truck apron," perhaps in response to the number of times large trucks have driven over the center island of existing roundabouts in town. But, if I'm reading the plans right, the two wide lanes plus the truck apron will provide quite a bit of room for motorists to navigate the roundabout. Perhaps that will ease some concerns the public has had with the city's first foray into dual-lane roundabouts.
The project recently did get a positive recommendation from the city-county Bicycle Advisory Committee. There have been concerns expressed about bicycle safety in dual-lane roundabouts, but the group was convinced those concerns can be overcome. Bicyclists will have the option of taking an "exit ramp" of sorts that will allow them to leave the street and enter an 8-foot sidewalk that will take them through the intersection. Bicyclists, however, also will be allowed to stay on the street and go through the intersection as a vehicle. The bicycle advisory board asked city engineers to find signs that make it clear that bicyclists are not expected to share the lane of traffic with other vehicles while in the roundabout. In other words, bicyclists should drive down the middle of the lane so motorists aren't tempted to pull up alongside them.
There is one more hurdle that could affect the timing of the project. City engineers have confirmed that the eminent domain process may be needed to secure the necessary right-of-way from one of the four property owners at the intersection. Engineers haven't yet identified which property owner is holding out, but city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will be asked to begin the eminent domain process. Engineers note that the eminent domain process can take two to three months to play out in court. Conceivably that could push back the proposed start date of the project. The roundabout project isn't expected to affect any buildings near the intersection, but it will require some changes to the landscaping in the area. Click here to see an overlay of the project.
• As we reported last week, Lawrence came one step closer to having a project that will bring super-fast one-gigabit broadband service to the city. A proposed public-private pilot project with Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband received a positive recommendation from a city advisory board.
The idea behind the project is to give Lawrence a competitive advantage by having Internet service that is far faster than most communities. How long that competitive advantage lasts will be an interesting question to monitor. Look no further than a recent article in the Wichita Eagle to get a sense of how serious some other communities are becoming about adding the super-fast broadband service.
The article details a project in Chanute, a town of a little more than 9,000 people in southeast Kansas. City officials there have tentatively decided to deliver gigabit service to every home in the city. But unlike the proposal in Lawrence, Chanute is planning to offer the service simply as part of its city utilities package. It is not partnering with a private provider, in part, because it looked for one and was not able to find a company that thought it made economic sense.
The city plans to offer the 1 gigabit service — the same speed offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City — for $40 per month. The city plans to spend $13 million to build out the system, although I believe the city already has spent some money to build a basic network that is in place currently.
For comparison purposes, Wicked Broadband is estimating it will cost $30 million to build out Lawrence — some companies have estimated $70 million. For its pilot project, which would cover downtown and parts of East Lawrence — Wicked is projecting the 1 gigabit service would be available for $99 per month.