MANCHESTER — It is used in residential neighborhoods and now a share-the-cost approach to rebuilding sidewalks may be used for commercial property for the first time.
Mayor Ted Gatsas wants to spend $2 million in the city’s motorized equipment repair fund for projects — including street reconstruction, rebuilding a sewer line and providing $380,000 to fix downtown sidewalks.
The mayor’s original plan was to take sidewalk money from the current year’s surplus, but the Board of Mayor and Aldermen decided to commit those funds to the school district.
“I think we’re going to attempt to get a 50/50 program with owners of buildings downtown,” Gatsas said.
The 50/50 program for residential property owners lets them get sidewalk upgrades by splitting the cost with the city.
Alderman Philip Greazzo, who opposed using surplus money for sidewalk repairs, doesn’t like using the motorized equipment repair fund any better.
“I’m good with the 50/50 program with business,” Greazzo said. “I’m not good with taking money from mechanical equipment repair. How will we repair our vehicles?”
The aldermen’s Community Improvement Committee is expected to take up the proposal. The group meets next on July 16. The committee chairman, Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy, said he’ll listen to the mayor’s idea.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do 50/50 at all, even for residents,” Roy said.
But Roy wants any sidewalk upgrades downtown to be designed with an eye toward durability and low maintenance, something he said wasn’t done when the city jumped into building brick sidewalks.
“I’ll be open-minded, but we need to do something different down there,” Roy said. “If we’re going to do sidewalks, put something in that would require less maintenance.”
Gatsas, who had pushed for the sidewalk improvement money, said the program could double the amount of money spent on sidewalks downtown.
Just walking a few blocks downtown means stepping over sidewalks made of bricks, concrete, concrete with brick accents and paving stone. City designers are eager to find ways to fashion a consistent look.
“We would like to standardize it,” Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard said.
Some city sidewalks are patched with asphalt over brick, while others have sections that sag, creating massive rainy-day puddles. Cracks in some sections make it easy for someone to trip and fall. One woman sued the city for an injury she claims was caused by a hole in an Elm Street sidewalk.
Local businesses and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce have been pushing city leaders to come through with the $380,000 set aside in Gatsas’ budget for Elm Street sidewalks. The money for sidewalk repairs for next year would be the first since 2007 dedicated to fixing downtown sidewalks.
Will Steward, vice president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said design choices are up to the city, but sidewalks with a uniform appearance set an important tone.
“It shows that you send a message that the city has a plan in mind and is not just going from one style to another,” Steward said.
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Bill Smith may be reached at email@example.com.