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Connect Laurens:

City of Laurens Secures $1.28 Million Grant to Replace Sidewalks and Uncover Historic Brick Streets

Laurens, February 12, 2024 – The City of Laurens has secured a $1.28 million grant from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). This grant, awarded through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), will fund a transformative project to improve Laurens’ aging sidewalks. In addition to making the Square safer and more accessible, this grant will also allow the city to uncover its brick streets concealed beneath asphalt for more than 80 years.

 

This project reflects the City of Laurens’ commitment to building a safe, walkable city that is accessible to all. “It is important that our public infrastructure is brought up to date so that no one is excluded from the life of our town simply because they do not feel safe getting around on our sidewalks,” said Mayor Nathan Senn. “This will be a major leap forward in making our city safer and more accessible, and we are grateful to the SC Department of Transportation for helping us make this long-overdue improvement.”

 

The City’s streetscape plans also demonstrate the value it places on its unique heritage. The Laurens Advertiser reported on February 19, 1908, almost exactly 116 years ago to the day, that City Council determined to pave the city’s then-red clay streets. In April 1908, Council approved a contract for paving twelve thousand square yards of the historic square. A foundation of eight inches of concrete was poured all around the Square with room set aside for a lawn around the courthouse and new sidewalks in front of local shops. On top of this concrete, thousands of extra-thick, extra-hard “vitrified” bricks were laid. Now, more than a century later, the city is set to renew its commitment to preserving this special infrastructure inheritance.

 

Most city streets are not owned or maintained by the City of Laurens even though they are located within the city limits. Instead, almost all of the city’s streets are owned and maintained by the SC Department of Transportation. Of the handful of small side streets and alleys that are owned by the City of Laurens, many of these have been repaved in recent years. The City of Laurens, in coordination with the Laurens County Transportation Commission, has worked to identify those city-owned streets which needed paving, and there has been a significant investment in these repaving projects across the city. Yet, the Square itself has not been paved in more than three decades – and it shows.

 

“We have a terrific opportunity to take advantage of an investment that was made 116 years ago to solve a paving problem we face today,” said Mayor Senn. “While the average life expectancy of an asphalt surface may be 20 years, the brick streets we have inherited are as solid today as they were the day they were laid, and I expect to be dead and gone before the City is ever faced with the need to replace them. We owe a debt of gratitude, not just to SCDOT for funding this project, but to the leaders of the past who made a wise investment so many years ago.”

 

Expressing their enthusiasm for this significant achievement, Mayor Nathan Senn and City Administrator Eric Delgado emphasized the city's dedication to preserving its historical charm while simultaneously building a more sustainable, accessible, and interconnected future. Mayor Senn commented, "This TAP grant marks a pivotal moment for Laurens as we strive to build a community that is more vibrant, accessible, and connected than ever before." City Administrator Eric Delgado highlighted the collaborative effort that contributed to securing the grant, stating, "This achievement is a testament to the tireless dedication of our city staff, community stakeholders, and residents. It signifies a significant step in our efforts to enhance our infrastructure and showcase the unique historical elements that define Laurens as part of the larger vision of Connect Laurens."

 

The SCDOT will manage the construction of this project but will do so in coordination with the City of Laurens. The City’s administration will coordinate with Main Street Laurens and local merchants to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible to businesses during demolition and construction. This project will be implemented in sections to avoid the disruption of demolition and construction all around the Square all at once.

 

“We know that people will have many questions about this project, and so we are setting up a project information page which will be featured on the City of Laurens website and will have answers to frequently asked questions,” said Mayor Senn. “One thing I know will be on people’s minds is what will happen to the bricks with names and messages that were placed around the Square over the years. Well, no need to fear! Those bricks will be put back where they are, and this time they won’t cause a trip hazard!”

 

City Administrator Delgado said, “This financial support empowers us to construct modern, ADA-compliant sidewalks, enhance our streets, and establish a truly pedestrian-friendly area. Our focus is on nurturing a strong sense of community and equipping residents and our locally-owned businesses with the infrastructure necessary to thrive. Achieving ADA compliance is the ultimate goal, ensuring that our city is fully accessible and inclusive for everyone. We thank the SC Department of Transportation for helping us advance toward that goal.”

  • Who is this going to help?
    Everyone. Whether you are an individual with mobility issues, visual impairment, a senior or one of those goofy people who make a habit of texting while you walk, Laurens new even sidewalks will make sure that you are able to enjoy getting around the center of our town safely.
  • Who is paying for this project?
    The Federal government through funds administered by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The Transportation Alternatives Program provides funds to local governments to improve infrastructure to improve non-motorized transportation. This includes sidewalks, trails, etc.
  • Who designed the Streetscape Plans?
    The initial Streetscape plan was designed by a local engineering firm, Davis and Floyd, inc., based out of Greenwood, SC. However, the plan developed by Davis and Floyd is based upon and will implement the streetscape improvements from the 2017 Downtown Master Plan which was developed with community input in coordination with Main Street Laurens and approved by City Council.
  • Who will be doing the construction?
    The construction of this project will be managed by The South Carolina Department of Transportation. Typically, there is an open bidding process, which is expected to occur this spring, and the private contractor with the winning bid will perform the work in coordination with South Carolina Department of Transportation, The City of Laurens, and The Commission of Public Works.
  • What are some of the key features of this project?
    · Improved ADA Accessibility through new sidewalks, featuring new ramps and crosswalks · Bollards to protect pedestrians from vehicular traffic. · Removal of existing sidewalk street trees (Zelkovas) and replacement with new trees (Plane trees) in new planter beds. · Implementation of the 2017 Downtown Master Plan · Historic preservation through restoration of the City’s 1908 brick streets · Additional seating and social areas to increase outdoor dining and foster community · Reuse existing pavers with inscriptions to honoring Laurens’ citizens. · Reduce liability risk of The City of Laurens to remove trip Hazzard and ADA non-compliant sidewalks. · Improved accessibility to existing parking · Relocation of street lighting to provide safer nighttime access.
  • What will happen to my (or loved ones) brick?
    We will document your brick’s location, keep it safe and sound and replace it on our newly poured sidewalks. Currently, many of the inscribed bricks are loose and are creating a trip hazard due to improper installation decades ago. In our new sidewalks these bricks will be respectfully and appropriately secured, and trip hazards eliminated.
  • What can I do to help with this project?
    Be patient and support our local businesses on the square. Anytime there is significant construction and demolition it will necessarily cause some inconvenience. The City, SCDOT, and Main Street Laurens will work together to minimize the impact on traffic, parking, and access to our local merchants, but we should all expect some disruption. Many of our businesses operate on thin margins and they will need your support during this project, more than ever. So, please be patient with the construction process and do your part to shop locally, follow and promote our merchants on social media, and encourage our community to be “all in” on this project!
  • When will this project start?
    Right now… and this summer. Like all major construction projects, this will happen in phases. The first phase is to engineer construction drawings and specifications. After construction plans are finalized, a request for bids will go out this spring and we anticipate that construction will begin mid to late summer. Construction is currently projected to take approximately six months. Since SCDOT is managing this project, these dates and timeframes are approximate, and we will update the public as information becomes available. We will work together with Main Street and local businesses to assure that you are able to visit your favorite shops and restaurants!
  • Where will construction begin?
    To be determined. This project is being managed by The South Carolina Department of Transportation and details such as phasing of construction have not been established. We understand that it is important to avoid demolition and construction everywhere all at once, so we are working in coordination with our merchants and MainStreet Laurens to develop a plan that works best for everyone. We will provide input to SCDOT and ensure that plans to minimize disruption are incorporated into the bidding award process, and the contract for construction.
  • Why are we using this money to pave the square and not other roads?
    This project is being funded by a TAP Grant which is specifically limited to providing funds for pedestrian infrastructure improvements. Additionally, most of the streets around our city are owned and managed by South Carolina Department of Transportation and The City of Laurens cannot repair and repave state-owned streets. It would be like painting your neighbors’ house! Most of the streets owned by The City of Laurens has been repaved in recent years, but the streets and sidewalks of our Historic Downtown, one of the chief drivers of economic development in our community have not been repaved in decades.
  • How will the historic brick streets in the Historic Square be uncovered and kept safe?
    The historic brick streets will be uncovered as part of a project to improve our town and accessibility. We will make sure to keep them safe and in good shape as we work on them.
  • Why is it important to keep the old brick streets, and how will the city make sure they stay the same?
    We care deeply about our town’s history, these old brick streets are a part of that history, therefore we will strive to keep all bricks, monuments, and sentimental pieces around town in the best care and make sure they remain the same.
  • Could you provide more details on the specific projects that will be funded by the TAP grant and how they align with the city's goals?
    The TAP grant will fund projects focused on enhancing pedestrian and street infrastructure, including new sidewalks, expanded roads, and pedestrian-friendly spaces. These projects align with the city's goals of creating a more sustainable, accessible, and connected community.
  • What is the timeline for the streetscape project, and how will it impact the daily lives of residents and businesses in the Historic Square?
    A detailed timeline will be communicated as the planning progresses. We are committed to minimizing disruptions and ensuring that residents are informed of any temporary impacts on daily routines.
  • How will the city make sure everyone, including people with disabilities, can use the new sidewalks and roads?
    We will make sure that all people can easily navigate our community by honoring our commitment to becoming ADA compliant.
  • What is ADA Compliance?
    ADA compliance refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and government services. ADA compliance means making sure that spaces are accessible to individuals with disabilities. This includes features such as ramps for wheelchair access, curb cuts, handrails, accessible parking spaces, and other accommodations to help mobility and usability for people with disabilities. The ADA sets standards for accessibility that public entities, businesses, and organizations must follow to ensure equal access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Compliance with ADA regulations is the main focus of our Streetscape project and will accommodate diverse needs and create environments where everyone can participate fully in community life.
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