Dig They Might

April 28, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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Grand Haven city officials are studying the possibility of a total reconstruction of three blocks of Washington Avenue downtown this fall, from Harbor Drive to Third Street. Included in that discussion is the possibility of adding a subsurface sidewalk snow-melt system similar to that in place in downtown Holland’s sidewalks for the past 20-plus years.

Julie Beaton, facilities and special projects manager of the Grand Haven Department of Public Works, said the proposal calls for a complete reconstruct of all infrastructure under Washington Avenue downtown: sanitary sewers, water mains, storm sewers, electric lines and other utilities.

"It's a definite thing we're going to do. Whether we start it in the fall or start it in the spring is not confirmed yet," Grand Haven Mayor Roger Bergman said in early April.

The big question is a snow-melt system. If the city council decides to do it, it would probably be more cost effective to install it when the sidewalks are torn up during the infrastructure replacement.

"We really don't have those numbers down firm yet," said Bergman. "As soon as we get those numbers to merchants and building owners and put all that together, then we can have a better idea whether we can move forward with that as well."

Aging infrastructure is driving the project. Beaton noted that the sanitary sewer under Washington Avenue is believed to be more than 70 years old. Bill Hunter, director of Public Works, said some of the maps still used for locating infrastructure under that stretch of Washington date back to 1893.

Beaton said the reconstruction is scheduled to start this fall after the summer tourist season, but, she added, "There are things that could come up and delay it."

In late March, Beaton said rough cost estimates of the project were ranging from $2.5 to $4 million. "It depends on if we get any grants," he added.

C2AE, an engineering/architecture/design firm in Grand Rapids, was hired to design the three-block project, according to Beaton. She said a preliminary design should be available by early May, at which point it will be reviewed by “all stakeholders.” Beaton said the C2AE design was being based on the Washington Avenue Master Plan, a 70-page document completed earlier this year by Fleis & Vandenbrink Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids. The new master plan is actually a larger study of Washington Avenue, from Harbor to Fifth Street.

According to the Fleis & Vandenbrink master plan, the utilities under Washington Street downtown are “old and built from antiquated materials. The sanitary sewer was constructed in the early 1900s using clay tile. It can be expected that a sanitary sewer of this type and age may be cracking and allowing clean water to infiltrate into the sewer system. If the system has portions that are not structurally sound, they could collapse causing backups. … Also, it is suspected that there are still roof and footing drain connections into the sanitary sewer."

The new master plan also noted that the water main and storm sewer were built in the 1940s, the water main from iron "with lead joints and old service leads." The existing water main is six inches in diameter, which, the plan noted, is “too small to meet future water demands, including fire protection."


The master plan projected construction costs for a project from Harbor Drive to Third Street at $4.6 million to $5.5 million. That estimate includes the cost of a $1.68 million snow-melt system under the sidewalks and streets ($723,000 if under sidewalks only). The projected cost also includes all street improvements, sewer and water main improvements, a new system of street lights and traffic control, and streetscape amenities including landscaping, irrigation, planter walls and decorative concrete.

The plan also estimated the annual cost of operating a snow-melt system at 50 cents to one dollar per square foot of area served.

Hunter reiterated that the suggestion for a downtown snow-melt system was just a suggestion and not a done deal. "We're seeing if it's feasible," he said.

One proposal for the snow-melt system is to use heat from the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power generating plant across the Grand River from the downtown district, which would entail piping it under the river. Another proposed system would use a downtown boiler to heat water that would be piped under the sidewalks.

The master plan states that a snow-melt system downtown is most feasible using an outdoor, gas-fired hot water boiler system. It states that the city generating station across the river lacks the excess capacity for providing heat to a snow-melt system, and that the extra costs entailed of modifying the plant and piping heat across the river would make that option "not as cost-effective."

Beaton said the new master plan is a "great guide," but she noted that some of the information that was needed by Fleis & Vandenbrink from the city and the DDA wasn't available before the deadline for completion of the plan.

"It's a great master plan," said Beaton. "It's laid out all the options. It's gone through all the things that the DDA design committee and the city had been concerned about.”

The downtown stretch of Washington Avenue is part of the national Main Street program, one of 13 in Michigan, according to Dana Bulson, director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority. Main Street is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. CQX

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