Downtown dust a temporary disruption as new brick sidewalk takes shape

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When the dust settles on the city’s sidewalk reconstruction project, look for brand new bricks on Elm Street. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings,

MANCHESTER, NH – All things considered, the sidewalk disruption outside the Benson building on Elm Street will be worth its weight in dust and debris when it’s completed in another day or so.

City Highway Chief Engineer Todd Connors explained that repairing that stretch of damaged brick sidewalk requires a deep dive into the structural history of the city’s subterranean vaults.

“Whenever we do sidewalk work we have to put a layer of water-proofing down before we lay the sidewalks,” Connors said.

That’s because underneath certain sidewalks sit the extended vaulted basements of old city buildings. The waterproofing is needed to seal the vaults.

“We can’t spray water to keep the dust down at the street level otherwise it would leak into the vaults – which are actually pretty neat,” Connors said.

Add some swirling gusts of wind and Tuesday’s sidewalk construction looked at times more like a scene straight from the Dust Bowl. And to compound the matter, it all came together like a perfect construction storm, during week one of the city’s return to outdoor-dining following an unscheduled pandemic.

Timing may seem inopportune, but Connors credits the contractor, Lyman & Son, with pressing forward to get the work going, a job which was initially delayed due to COVID-19.

Follow the dusty brick road. It won’t lead you to Oz, but you will find fresh new bricks in another day or so. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

“They just bid on the job in March before things shut down, and they asked the city if they’d be willing to allow them to work during the COVID shutdown. It took us a few weeks to be comfortable that the work could be done safely, but once everything was in place, the work actually got started about a month ahead of the original schedule,” Connors said.

This means it will be done around a month ahead of schedule – as long as the weather gods cooperate – coinciding with the gradual increase in downtown activity.

The brick sidewalk in front of the Benson Building is one of two brick sections on the construction list that require removing all the old brick and replacing it. As the mortar between the brick degrades water can seep underneath and into the vaults, so the extra work is essential to do it right, Connors said.

“We’re sensitive that it’s important to get the work done quickly because the city’s trying to get businesses open. Part of the work includes cleaning the roof of the vault before putting the waterproof membrane down. We try to control the dust and noise, and there’s always a little short-term pain. At the end of the day, construction can be on the messy side, but it’s going to look great when it’s finished.”

Below is a rundown of the proposed sidewalk construction schedule, weather permitting.

  • New Brick Sidewalks (Under Construction – Expected 5/18 to 6/5):
    • Elm Street, west side, Merrimack to Cat Alley/Manchester Street
    • Elm Street, west side, City Hall/Hanover Street to Stark Street
  • Concrete Sidewalk with Brick Accent (substantially complete)
    • Elm Street, west side, MCPHS/Pearl Street to Fir Street
    • Elm Street, west side, Fir Street to Dow Street
    • Elm Street, east side, Orange Street to Myrtle Street
  • Concrete Sidewalk (Substantially Complete)
    • Elm Street, east side, Harrison Street to Brook Street
  • Asphalt Sidewalk (substantially complete)
    • Elm Street, west side, Dow Street to Langdon Street
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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!