In1947, the city of Decorah, Iowa, paved its brick-lined Water Street with portland cement concrete (PCC) pavement, which was originally designed to carry traffic along the city's downtown street for approximately 20 years.
While the street was still very functional, city leaders made the decision to replace the pavement as part of a downtown revitalization program. The decision to replace the pavement was based to some extent on the need to repair underground utilities, but city leaders determined it also was time to address the aesthetics of the 50-year-old pavement. This decision led to the Downtown Water Street Improvement Project.
A vibrant heartbeat
Located in northeastern Iowa, Decorah is the seat of Winneshiek County, the home of Luther College, and the site of an annual event known as Nordic Fest. Thousands of residents, tourists, and alumni converge upon downtown Decorah each year, visiting the city's shops, restaurants, museum, and other attractions in the area.
A strong sense of civic pride exists among the residents, businesses, and civic leaders, as well as the multitudes of people who have ties to Decorah. When city leaders made the decision to revitalize Water Street, many people got involved in the project.
Citizens, business leaders, public officials, and representatives of the companies who contracted to do the work met in various groups at different venues to discuss details of the project. These groups of people provided input on many aspects of the project, including the desired aesthetic features of the street. Volunteer block captains helped maintain communications between merchants and project personnel. The block captains conveyed the concerns of their merchants and customers to the engineer at weekly meetings.
There was a feeling among some people that the project should capture the historic essence associated with red bricks that had formed the original roadway, and which had been paved over or replaced in1947. To capture the charm and desired historic essence, the sidewalks and intersections were paved with "faux brick," which actually was a more durable product than brick-stamped concrete colored with red pigment.
These groups also decided upon other aesthetic issues, including the use of modern replicas of the original street lights. Incidentally, the modern versions were made by the same company that produced the original lights first placed along downtown streets more than 50 years ago.
Partners in paving
The contractors, citizens, business leaders, and public officials also communicated frequently on a range of
other issues related to the pavement and utility reconstruction project. The Decorah Chamber of Commerce, the
city government, Winneshiek County Development Inc., local merchants, and citizens met regularly to assess progress,
provide feedback, and exchange ideas.
The chamber of commerce organized a group, which established a campaign called "Discover Downtown Decorah," according to Richelle Halverson-Jermeier, executive director of the chamber. Prize drawings, newspaper ads, special signs and displays, and specially-printed t-shirts were used to create awareness of the revitalization project, as well as to stimulate business downtown. Many of Decorah's merchants also joined in with advertisements, special promotions, and other efforts to encourage business during reconstruction. The project engineer, Lindsay Erdman of Erdman Engineering, P.C., also wrote a regular column for the chamber's newspaper supplement.
The contractors played an important role in facilitating the project. The utilities contractor, Bruening Rock Products Inc., constructed temporary crushed-rock walkways. These allowed customers to enter the businesses through the front doors during construction. The paving contractor, Wicks Construction, Inc., also helped manage the pedestrian traffic. Workers from both companies stopped work long enough to assist people who needed help maneuvering around the construction site, which was cordoned off to ensure the safety of pedestrians and workers.
The local media also played a key role by publishing construction updates, news stories about the reconstruction project, and even historic glimpses of the original streetscapes during the1940s and1950s. Weekly radio updates also were part of the information-sharing process.
"I lived at the end of this street 50 years ago and saw the first project in1947," said Mildred Dinger, a retired teacher and resident of Decorah. She added that she and her husband Richard visited the construction site frequently to watch the paving and associated work.
Another key element in the success of the reconstruction project was the partnering efforts of the contractors, project engineer, public officials, and the Iowa Concrete Paving Association.
The project was completed in seven phases, which were divided into sub-phases, according to Brad Wicks of Wicks Construction. The project involved tearing out streets and sidewalks, replacing electrical wiring and lighting apparatus, and sewer structures. Wicks noted there were152 bid items on the contract. He also described a number of complexities, including the requirement to dig through hard limestone, the need to coordinate the timing of the paving with the electrical and sewer work, and the goal of meeting an aggressive timetable. The contractors had a goal of completing the project not only within this time period, but actually completing it in time for Nordic Fest.
Wicks used a Gomaco bridge deck paver to build the 8-1Ú2 in. pavement (with dowel baskets) on Water Street, as well as the 8-in. PCC pavement (without dowel baskets) on the side streets. The project called for14,300 sq yd of PCC pavement, 4,000 lin ft of concrete curb and gutter and more than 60,000 lin ft of concrete pavement for the sidewalks, Wicks said.
Wicks constructed a separate, specially designed curb and gutter system, some of which was built by hand, because of the limited clearance available for the electrical work along Water Street. The system featured a special notched design on the back of the curb, which provides added support for the sidewalk to prevent it from settling.
The sawed joints were sealed with Dow Corning silicone sealants. The PCC mix, a standard Iowa C-4 mix, was supplied by Fred Carlson Co. Inc., which also did some of the asphalt paving work.
The project also was a model of innovation and skilled planning. For example, the crushed-rock used for the
temporary walkways became the 6-in. base as the paving train moved along Water Street.
Concurrent work was done on one of the local merchants' buildings to prevent damage during the paving project.
This adjunct project also involved close coordination and timing to remove the second story, replace the roof,
and shore up a sagging east wall ahead of the paving train.
This entire project also involved some extra effort and long hours for all concerned.
"The crews worked between 80 and 90 hours per week," said Keith B. Bruening of Bruening Rock Products. "Some
of the sewer work was completed as late as 2 a.m. because the old sewer structure required a lot of work."
Bruening was responsible for the underground utility work (except the electrical work, which was done by Voltmer
Electric), as well as the grading, plumbing, and removal of the old structures.
"I can't point to one thing as a major problem," Bruening said, adding, "Everything went very smoothly."
A sound investment
To the delight of all concerned, the project was completed ahead of schedule. Along the way, the paving crews were
recognized in the media and by merchants and citizens as heroes.
"Business stayed right up where it was before the construction," said Richard Amundson of Amundson Clothing.
"Most important of all, the project has gone fast and gone well," said Dorrance Davick, store manager of J.C. Penney in
Decorah. "They worked late at night and early, too. I often saw them working when I came to work at 6:30 a.m."
"We originally considered an asphalt overlay (to rehabilitate the original concrete pavement),"said Vic Fye, mayor of
Decorah. "It might have lasted10 to15 years, but we didn't think it was a good idea." He also noted that asphalt
would have required regular maintenance, such as seal-coating. "We feel the maintenance is less with concrete pavement," he added.
"This project has been a major part of our efforts to revitalize and enhance downtown Decorah," said Jerry Freund, city
administrator for Decorah. When asked what advice he had for other public officials or contractors who might be
involved in such a project, he said, "Begin planning for downtown projects well in advance. Anticipate questions and
unforeseen challenges, which on the surface, may not seem like much, but are very important.
"Financing a project such as this (which was paid for by a1% city tax) requires coordinating the decision-making
process," he said. "The challenge is to make sure people have a voice in what is being done.
"Make your planning efforts and plans well known," Freund said. "By doing so, people get excited and it will help
avoid problems. All combined, the best advice is to think ahead."
Water Street's first PCC pavement provided a value to Decorah's citizens, based on the fact that the pavement outlasted
its original design-life by 30 years. The combination of planning, skilled construction, project management,
fast-track paving, and partnering among all parties will ensure that the investment in the new PCC pavement also will
pay dividends for many years to come.