Brick streets

A car drives down a section of South Street, near 18th Street Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, the Blair City Council approved a plan to make repairs to the brick on South Street, between 17th and 18th streets. It is one of four areas where repairs will be made.

After additional research, including observing a project in south Omaha, Public Works Director Al Schoemaker believes the city now has a good plan in place to address maintenance of Blair's brick streets.

During Tuesday's Blair City Council meeting, Schoemaker presented the details of a pilot program to repair sections of brick street in four areas, including South Street between 17th and 18th streets, which earlier this year was slated to lose its brick surface in favor of asphalt until a last minute request to hold off on the project was granted.

Following that decision, Mayor Rich Hansen appointed a brick streets committee that included residents, council members Frank Wolff and Mindy Rump, who served as chairperson, and city staff to come up with a plan moving forward.

In addition to South Street, the repair program recommended by the brick streets committee includes:

• 15th Street from Washington to Lincoln streets

• 17th Street from Washington to Lincoln streets

• Lincoln Street at the 17th Street intersection

"That doesn't mean we are going to do the whole street, that means we are going to fix whatever needs to be fixed in that block," Schoemaker said.

The budget for the project is $80,000, which Schoemaker determined using an estimate of $80 per square yards, would cover about 1,000 square yards of repairs. He expects the South Street repairs to cover about one-third of the budget. One-thousand square yards is about the size of a city block.

Schoemaker said he plans to use the entire budget.

"If that means we can do more, then we'll want to go ahead and try to do more," he said. "If we get bids that are higher than this, obviously that would cut down on the number of square yards we can do."

In researching how other cities across the state have handled or plan to handle brick street repairs as they arise, Schoemaker said City Administrator Rod Storm learned not many have plans in place.

"The general consensus was the same as the City of Blair, they wanted them to be preserved but nobody had a game plan on how to preserve and maintain them or do anything with them," he said. "They fix them as absolutely necessary, otherwise leave them alone and don't touch them."

Unfortunately, some of the brick streets in Blair are in need of repairs so that is not an option, Schoemaker said. The city has 38 blocks of brick streets.

"We have some streets around the city that need some attention, one way or another, either they be repaired or otherwise," he said.

While other cities have shied away from brick street repairs, Schoemaker said the City of Omaha has had a pretty aggressive program for five years. Much of what Schoemaker presented to the council for Blair's repairs is modeled after Omaha's program. The photos and videos he shared were from work he observed in May.

As is being done in Omaha, Schoemaker said areas in need of repair would be marked and the contractor would come in, remove the bricks, treat the subgrade, fill the hole back up and replace the bricks. Once the bricks are in place, a polymeric sand would be poured on top of them. Over time, the sand works it way in between the bricks to help seal them and Schoemaker said was able to observe how durable the sand was.

"What I saw with that was the project manager took his car key and was trying to jam it into that joint between the bricks and he couldn't penetrate it to the point that he almost broke his key," he said.

In the areas where repairs meet up with a paved surface, Schoemaker said a minimum one-foot band of concrete will be placed to allow the brick a little bit of freedom to move without it being up against an existing street.

One concern Schoemaker shared with the brick streets committee and again with the council on Tuesday is the challenge of finding make up brick, if needed. He said when some of the bricks are taken out, they may not be able to go back in.

"Some will simply just disintegrate in your hands as you take them out," he said.

The city has extra bricks stored at its water plant, but Shoemaker said he wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of them disappear quickly.

"At that point in time, the city may have to make some tough decisions on how we are going to continue to pursue brick street repairs based on the availability of make up bricks," he said. "Nobody is making these anymore so you've got to buy them from somebody or you cannibalize some of your existing blocks of streets to make up the extra brick you are going to need."

He estimated if the city would have to buy bricks, they'd pay between $1.50 and $2 per brick.

The estimated repair costs surprised Council member Brad Andersen.

"It's not as bad as I anticipated," Andersen said.

Schoemaker said the cost could mean a street once considered for asphalt paving could remain as a brick surface.

"I even went so far as to tell the brick street committee that I know Nebraska Street for a long time has kind of been given up," Schoemaker said. "But, it would cost us about $100,000 to tear out the bricks and put asphalt in and probably $120,000 to do the (brick) repairs."

Even with the repairs, however, it won't be smooth sailing for drivers on the brick streets.

"What you will get is what Omaha calls a drivable street," Schoemaker said. "It gets rid of the big dips and bumps and so forth, but the brick street will still have that little bit of rattle that goes with it."

With unanimous approval from the council, Schoemaker said, he will begin working on bid specifications and documents and the seek bids, which he hopes to have for the council in October. He said there are at least two contractors who are interested in doing the work.

The timeframe on repairs will depend on contractor availability and the weather. If a contractor is available, work could be done this fall. If not, it will be next spring, he said.

Once repairs start, residents should expect street closures, which could last a week per street.

Rump and council member Jon Stewart thanked Schoemaker for his work. Stewart also thanked members of the brick streets committee.

Upon completion of the repairs, Council President Chris Jensen said he'd like to see weight restrictions on the streets. Schoemaker noted that South Street does have no truck signs, but he said, unfortunately, it's an enforcement issue.

"If we spend $80,000 to fix these streets, I don't care what we do," Jensen said.

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