Going with the flow: Underground brook work central to City Place Project
Adam Caira / Staff Photo Superintendant Mike Canavan stands in and underground culvert on the site of the new Studio Place Arts building in Downtown Barre on Friday, Mar. 01, 2013.
BARRE — A brook that runs beneath downtown Barre — skirting the edge of the vacant lot where City Place is now being built — is going to require a more expensive fix than initially anticipated.
Though City Place developer DEW Properties LLC included a $100,000 allowance to deal with a box culvert that was built out of granite blocks back in the 1800s, City Manager Steve Mackenzie said Friday estimates suggest the work will cost more than twice that.
According to Mackenzie, the city has agreed to pick up the balance because, he said, the work can’t wait, and a short section of the monstrous culvert that runs along the original route of the Potash Brook must be replaced.
It soon will be, according to Mackenzie, who said DEW plans to install a six-foot diameter aluminized corrugated metal culvert that will run from North Main Street, along the border of the City Place property to the warehouse that is located in the neighboring lot behind Studio Place Arts.
Earlier this week Mayor Thomas Lauzon floated the idea of tapping funds from the city’s new Tax Increment Financing district to pay for the city’s share of the project. Mackenzie said that may eventually be a possibility, but it isn’t today and waiting simply wasn’t an option given DEW’s aggressive schedule for completing the massive downtown redevelopment project.
“It’s still timely and not impacting the (City Place) project, but if we’d waited much longer it would have,” he explained.
Sub-surface work is well under way and must be finished before the foundation of what will be a four-story, 80,000-square-foot mixed-use building can be poured.
Mackenzie said he would look to capital funds to cover the city’s share of an infrastructure project that “… isn’t the developer’s responsibility” even though DEW has agreed to pay for a good chunk of it.
“We have an opportunity to make a major … improvement to the section of the storm system that has always been problematic and we’re getting a 40 (percent) to 50 percent subsidy to do it,” Mackenzie explained.
Though the replacement culvert probably won’t prevent future flooding in extreme storms, Mackenzie said, it will be a major upgrade over the one that now exists.
“There’s no hydraulic integrity to that structure at all so it leaks like a sieve whenever it starts to back up,” he said.
Still, given its vintage and its length, it is a pretty impressive.
Just ask City Engineer Reginald Abare who will tell you they just don’t build them like that any more.
“It’s quite a piece of work,” Abare said of a box culver that was built one granite block at a time in the days before TIF districts and aluminized corrugated metal.
Leave it to Barre to bury a brook, which is precisely what the city did, though Abare can’t say for certain when it happened. He can say it happened before the Nichols Block – now home to SPA — was built in 1885.
Interestingly enough many residents aren’t aware that it’s there and even Mackenzie, who was born and raised in Barre, mistakenly thought it was part of an old storm sewer system.
It isn’t. It’s a brook in the mother of all box culverts — one that starts near the corner of Jefferson and Elm streets, runs along Summer Street, across the Pearl Street Parking Lot, on to the city-owned lot where City Place is now being built, across North Main Street, down Depot Square and through Metro Way before emptying into the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River.
A portion of the old box culvert was replaced as part of the North Main Street reconstruction project last year and the newly proposed section will pick up where that work left off. However, that represents only a fraction of the underground channel that ranges from four- to five-feet in width and is about five feet high.
According to Abare, the carefully constructed laid up granite walls are topped with granite roof slabs in many places, but steel railroad rails were used as supports for concrete panels in some areas.
“It’s a mix of materials,” he said.
The Potash Brook, which flows into the city from the hills of Barre Town now forks underground a stone’s throw from the former Mathewson School. However, Abare said one of those channels was constructed at the suggestion of then-City Engineer Thurmond Dix following a post-World War II flooding episode. The more modern channel features a much straighter shot to the Stevens Branch. It passes by the Aldrich Public Library and City Hall before emptying into the river near the Prospect Street bridge.
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