City works to nail down variables before bids go out for downtown street project
Plans submitted to Madison
By Eileen Persike
Parking spaces along Brown and Davenport Streets in Rhinelander were blocked off with yellow caution tape for a few hours Monday morning. Workers from American Engineering Testing were looking for “voids” under the downtown streets that are slated for renovation next spring.
Those voids, in many cases, are extensions of basements. The work brings the city another step closer to the beginning of the Downtown Streetscape Project.
“They used sonar to look beneath the ground so they can see exactly how far these things come out,” said city administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner. “They also took bore samples into the ground to try to find bedrock, because if they found a big slab of granite it could require explosives to remove; if not the work would be a lot easier.”
City project leaders want to figure out all the potential variables under the streets before the bids are put out to contractors. What they found, she said, was for the most part there isn’t a lot of bedrock.
“To know that helps us out greatly,” she continued. “Just as knowing where these coal chutes are, where these underground rooms are –everything that you know is going to help with the bids.”
Bids are expected to go out mid-December. But recent turnover in the USDA Rural Development staff in Madison means the project plans may not be approved as quickly as city officials would like. However, the city built in a multi-month cushion, so a few weeks delay will not upset the schedule.
One deadline that will need to be met is for the property owners to upgrade their pipes to meet the city’s new infrastructure, and make plans to close the coal chutes and anything else found under the streets. The city is requesting that all private construction projects be completed by April 1, 2016. But, sooner is better than later, as it takes coordination with private contractors and city engineers.
The base project, which includes infrastructure and streetscape improvements along nine blocks of Brown, Davenport and Stevens Streets has been estimated to cost about $6.97 million. The city has secured funding of just over $6.8 million. There are some things the grants will not pay for – garbage cans and planters, for example; but it will pay for things like replacing lamp posts.
“The city doesn’t have an unlimited pot of money to do a lot of these extra things,” Aschenbrenner said. “Around $800,000 is what the city is comfortable borrowing so if the bids come back and we can do everything, great; but if the bids come back and it would cost more, we’d have to cut from the plan.”
Throughout the process, the city has hosted information sessions to keep downtown business and property owners up to date on the extent of the project, the costs, and responsibilities. Instead of the 100 or so people affected by the street project, the meetings have drawn only a handful.
“While our participation isn’t as great as we’d like, the people that we talk to are willing to work with us,” Aschenbrenner said. “Like we told them – a sewer project is once every 75 years. We’ll have a good system, sewer systems will function better, we’ll be able to control storm water better and they’re going to have a beautiful street when it’s all said and done.”