Commissioner wants street work to be done by local unemployed people, but federal regulations disagree

A project to strip off the asphalt and rebuild a portion of New York Street with bricks already is a return to the olden days in one way.

Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Amyx would like for it to harken back in at least one other: He’d like the rebuilding to be a 1930s-style works program project that draws its labor force directly from the local unemployment ranks.

To Amyx, the idea makes perfect sense, given that the nearly $1 million project — which will rebuild New York from Ninth to 12th streets — is being totally funded by federal stimulus dollars.

“The laying of brick is hard work, but here’s a case of how I think the stimulus money probably could be used in a way to provide jobs to people who really need them,” Amyx said.

But it is likely not to be.

City staff members have asked the Kansas Department of Transportation about structuring the project so that the labor would come from a pool of unemployed Lawrence workers.

KDOT, which is administering the federal money, said that wouldn’t be allowed because federal regulations require that the project be competitively bid, said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works. They also do not allow for contracts that mandate the use of local labor, he said.

“It is 100 percent federally funded, so we have to follow their rules,” Soules said.

The federal bid requirements are set up to ensure that projects are done for the lowest and best bid, Soules said. Amyx said he understands the reasoning, but is still disappointed. He said he could envision area residents in need of jobs removing, cleaning, stacking and laying bricks.

“There are definitely a lot of different facets of this project that people who are looking for work would be able to step in and start doing right away,” Amyx said. “I felt like it had the potential to put quite a few people to work.”

Soules said the project still will do that. He said he expects local contractors to bid on the project, and it could help the winning contractor avoid laying off some of its employees.

At their meeting on Tuesday evening, commissioners are expected to start the process of selecting a contractor for the project. Bids will be opened Dec. 15, but Soules said work likely won’t begin until the spring.

He said the project, which will involve removing the two layers of brick underneath the asphalt and reusing them, should be done by the fall. Soules said one of the requirements of the project will be that work on the portion of New York Street that is in front of New York School be done during the summer when school is not in session.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.