Downtown Keene

A $7.4 million improvement project to downtown Keene is expected to start next year.

KEENE — Plans for a $7.4 million infrastructure improvement and reconstruction project in downtown Keene will take shape over the next year, Keene Public Works Director Kürt Blomquist said last week.

The project is expected to break ground in 2023.

“The last time the downtown was significantly reworked was back in the 1980s,” Blomquist said. “Primarily most of that work was surface work, lighting, sidewalks, irrigation. … At that point in time retail was king, so the way our downtown was laid out was to support retail.”

The project’s major goal, however, is to address issues arising with the downtown’s underground infrastructure, some of which is more than 100 years old.

“Our water infrastructure starts in the 1890s and runs through 1912,” Blomquist said. “The sewer system, the majority of that was replaced in 1931, so it’s relatively new.”

The project is focused on the replacement and upgrade of the infrastructure on Central Square, Main Street from West/Roxbury to Water Street and side street areas including Lamson Street, Church Street, Railroad Street and Gilbo Avenue.

The infrastructure that is set for replacement or upgrades includes stormwater, water, sewer, telecommunication, electrical, Broadband and irrigation. Slated for improvements are the sidewalk areas, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, gathering spaces, event areas and open spaces. Additionally, Railroad Square is set for a redesign and reconfiguration.

“Everything is going to be torn up,” Blomquist said, which will potentially be disruptive to the downtown area over the two to three-year project, but also allows for the downtown to be reconfigured to better suit current and future uses.

“Our downtown was configured in the 1980s for retail; fast forward to today our downtown is more focused on entertainment, restaurants and events in which people want to gather,” Blomquist said. “What I’m encouraging people to think about is what can we do to make the downtown useful going forward.”

A timeline for the upgrade came before both the City Council and the Finance, Organization, and Personnel Committee in December, Blomquist said.

“What’s happening now is we’re moving forward with soliciting a design firm,” he said.

In February, Mayor George S. Hansel is expected to appoint members to the Ad-hoc Downtown Infrastructure Improvement and Reconstruction Project Committee who will help guide the design, Blomquist said.

This ad-hoc committee will include members of the community including City Council members and business owners, Blomquist said.

“This committee would help oversee the design process and ultimately make recommendations to the City Council. They would also work through the construction phase,” Blomquist said. “The goal is that by the end of calendar year 2022 to have a preferred design selected.”

Once a design is chosen the project could start “as early as construction season 2023,” he said.