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The city of Springfield has nearly14 miles of historic brick sidewalks dating back to the mid-1800s. Many of these sidewalks are over-grown, cracked and in need of repair in many neighborhoods. The city has begun to restore those sidewalks. However, some say that the work being done could be better. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann spoke with both sides of this debate and has this report.
Jim Butler is one of the many advocates who are in favor of restoring Springfield’s many historic brick sidewalks. He says that while he and many others are happy that restoration is underway in some neighborhoods, he feels the work is not meeting his expectations. Butler says the bricks are being replaced incorrectly, and that different types of bricks are being mixed together.
“The concern about doing the job right is reflected in every neighborhood the work has been done, and every neighborhood that the work is about to be done. Over 75 people now have looked at this and asked the city to be proud of this 100 year resource,” Butler says.
One of Butler’s biggest concerns is that the original brick is not being replaced with the worn-side up. He says the porous underside of the bricks, when exposed to the elements, trap water. Butler is concerned that these bricks may not hold up as well in the elements. He says the crews working on the project need to be more diligent in keeping the types of bricks separated, and facing the right side up. Butler adds it doesn’t cost any more to do the job correctly. He says in the long run it will save money and the sidewalks will look nicer.
“Because of the lifecycle of brick, it’s very practical and cost effective to spend a mere two-times the cost of concrete. That’s because it [the brick] is already over 130 years old. Concrete only lasts at max 40 years. So, we’re talking well over 6 or maybe possibly 8 times the lifecycle at twice the cost,” says Butler.
Overall, Butler says he thinks the city is doing a good job with the project, but he feels a few points need to be revisited. He says the city’s policy on the sidewalks is good, but that the practice and execution need work. Butler also feels that property owners should not be responsible for general sidewalk maintenance, and that the contract should be rewritten to reflect that.
But Johnathon Gano, assistant director of public works for Springfield, says the property owners living near a sidewalk actually are supposed to maintain them.
“That’s not in the contract, that’s city ordinance. So that’s established law for the city of Springfield and has been for decades. The conversation in the brick sidewalk task force meetings over the last year, that concluded this past summer, was that the sidewalk has always been the responsibility of the adjoining property owner,” says Gano.
Gano says that Butler and the sidewalk task force have been instrumental in getting the restoration project off to a great start. He says that although Butler is a great asset to insight on the sidewalk project, facing bricks worn-side up is not always practical.
“A major reason for that is that we are using a completely different kind of edge-support technology that was not available when the brick sidewalks were built. We are cutting the original edge bricks in half because they end up being too deep for our compact, stabilized base if we put them back in the exact same way. So we end up having twice as many edge bricks as we need,” Gano says.
Gano says restoring the sidewalks this way allows the city to recycle and reuse nearly 90 percent of the original brick. Because today’s edge support is more advanced than 100 years ago, doing the project any other way would cause many of the bricks to be discarded. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.