June 14, 2010

Alderman says no opposition to saving street bricks

Street bricks on College Avenue in Racine.

Public Works Commissioner Rick Jones doesn't oppose a proposal to require the city to save street bricks when they're discovered in street reconstruction projects, according to Alderman Greg Helding. He just wants the City Council to budget money if it does decide to preserve the bricks.

Helding's comments came in response to a RacinePost story last week saying Jones opposed a proposal by Alderman Eric Marcus to require the city to save street bricks, which are sometimes found beneath paved city streets. Marcus wants the bricks to eventually resurface College Avenue in the city's south side historic district.

Below are Helding's comments. Jones also wrote in and said Helding's comments accurately reflected his position.

From Alderman Helding:
Regarding your article on the proposal to save bricks, it is not accurate to say that Commissioner Jones opposed the idea. He said more than once that his department will do what we ask if we budget for it. The number of $200,000 came from the estimate of $0.50 per brick to remove, clean, palletize, shrink wrap, and deliver the bricks to a city storage area. That assumes we need 400,000 bricks to replace all of the bricks. This number is based on the square footage of the existing pavement and the size of the bricks. As Comissioner Jones explained to the committee at the meeting, this is just an estimate. We don't know how many current bricks would be reusable. If 80% of the existing street bricks are reusable, then we only need to save 80,000 bricks at a cost of $40,0000. In any case it will cost money and we need to account for that.
We also don't know how many bricks that have been asphalted or paved over are reusable. Commissioner Jones did say that many bricks are not reusable for streets. He also said that contractors count on reselling the bricks when making their bids. This is not a contradiction. For one thing, many does not necessarily mean most, so some bricks are reusable for streets. For another, the bricks can for patios, landscaping, and interior design and not just for streets.
Each intact brick can fetch $1. Contractors do factor this into the cost of their projects. If we now mandated that they collect the bricks and give them to the city, it would affect the cost of the contracts. That's why we need to budget for this. Even if you have volunteers collect the bricks, the contractor still needs to prep the site in a way that the volunteers can get the bricks - unless the volunteer group has a lot of construction equipment - and leave time in the schedule for it. The volunteer group will need one heck of a liability insurance policy as well. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it doesn't eliminate the costs.
Commissioner Jones pointed out the considerations and potential costs. At this point, it was the committee who was opposed to the idea because we don't have a plan for the current brick streets. The policy on College Ave is to leave it alone and to restore the brick surface in the case of any street openings. There is no plan for replacement or rebuilding on the books. This is a stick issue. Brick paving costs a lot more than concrete paving and the curbs over there are a foot high and cost more than standard curbs. My opposition to us passing this brick saving idea is based on the absence of a need for the bricks. We may have an eventual need for the bricks, but don't have one now. In recent years, costs and political expedience have gotten in the way of planning to repave College Ave. We need to come up with a plan that keeps the character of the street without giving undue benefit to the homeowners on the street. How could the city justify funding a much more expensive street for these people and not for other permanent streets. My street is concrete. When the time comes to replace it, I would LOVE a brick street - but I won't get one. My point is that the cart is before the horse. Let's tackle the main issue first. Let's decide on a plan for the brick streets, assess how many materials we might need, and then start paying for materials. I know it is hard for some to believe, but some public works decisions are made by the Committee using reason, and not through the Svengali-like influence of Commissioner Jones.
And a brief comment sent in by Commissioner Jones:
Ald. Helding captured my comments very well and explained the Committee's position. I will stress again the it is the position of the Department that we are very supportive of the request as long as the Alderman can identify how many bricks that they wish us to recover and that they provide a budget sufficient to cover the cost.