Saxonburg's Main Street businesses brace for inconvenience of beautification project
Saxonburg's formerly quaint, tree-lined Main Street is marked with piles of dirt, tree stumps and orange construction signs.
The concrete and brick sidewalks are half gravel and plywood covers the more treacherous areas. Small blue-and-yellow flags used to mark gas and waterlines dot each side of the street.
“It doesn't look beautiful right now,” said Judy Ferree, owner of Hotel Saxonburg on Main Street.
But she and other Main Street business owners are looking past the mess to when the $1.4 million Main Street Project is finished this fall.
“It's going to be stunning,” said Randy Cinski, who owns Randita's Organic Vegan Café with her husband, Dale. “It's really going to brighten the town up.”
On Monday, the main contractor will begin tearing out the north side of the sidewalk between Rebecca and Pittsburgh streets.
The first phase, funded through a PennDOT grant, includes construction of new sidewalks, curbing, handicapped- accessible ramps, landscaping and street lighting.
The second phase, which is under design, would make improvements to the rest of Main Street, from Pittsburgh and State streets to the borough building just past Butler Street.
Traffic flow will be better monitored during the construction project because Main Street is a state road. The contractor must follow PennDOT guidelines for vehicle and pedestrian accessibility.
The improvements are intended to both maintain and restore the street's original historical character.
Main Street features 32 buildings that are more than 100 years old. Of those, 10 are more than 150 years old.
The project includes construction of concrete gutters and curbs and wheelchair ramps at the intersections.
In addition, the sidewalks will be realigned and widened to between 5 feet and 6 feet wide so that it is consistent for the length of Main Street, rather than the current, irregular configuration.
The pedestrian lighting will be lampposts that are modeled after the gaslights used in Saxonburg in the late 1800s.
“I think it will be great,” Ferree said. “The town needs a face lift. It will be so beautiful that I think it will attract more people and it will become a destination.”
The north sidewalks and curbs should be completed by the third week of May, said John DeSantis, project manager for S.E.T., Inc. of Lowellville, Ohio, the project's main contractor.
The sidewalks on the other side of the street should be done by early July, he said.
“That will be the major disturbance in the borough,” he said. “From July to the end of the project, we'll be installing the light poles, paving and line striping and planting trees and shrubs.”
The street will remain open during the project, DeSantis said.
However, the parking lane will be blocked and the sidewalk closed on the side of street on which work is being done, he said.
Access to businesses' front entrances will be maintained, but pedestrians will be encouraged to use rear entrances if available.
Work that's complete includes cutting down 20 to 30 trees earlier this month because their location would have put them in the middle of the new sidewalk.
Over the past year, utility companies upgraded and relocated gas and waterlines and some utility poles that interfered with curbs or ramps.
That was certainly a challenging time for motorists and business owners, said Rob Kaltenhauser, the Main Street project manager for the John Roebling's Historical Saxonburg Society, which is spearheading the project.
“There were two or three companies working at the same time and they had to be done by the time the main contract started,” he said.
Melinda Aresto, owner of A Taste of Heaven Bake Shoppe, worries that her business will continue to be affected.
“A lot of people have told me that when they see all this going on, they go the other way,” she said. “They don't want to deal with it.”
Signs letting people know the street and businesses are open would help, said Erin Wincek, Saxonburg Area Library director.
“When you only come to town every so often, you're not sure it's open,” she said. “Patrons say they're not sure what's allowed and where they can go.”
Tom Knights, Saxonburg's building inspector and zoning and sewage enforcement officer, said the benefits outweigh the temporary inconvenience.
“I think it's going to be a fantastic improvement for pedestrian traffic,” he said. “I think it's certainly going to help with the parking on the street itself, (because) the changing of the curb line is going to make it easier for people to park and get out of their vehicles.
“It's going to involve a little bit of patience, but I think at the end of the project it's going be a pretty significant enhancement.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.