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State funding decision hits the bricks

Sturbridge officials weigh sidewalk options

Sturbridge officials are waiting for final word on how much the state is willing to contribute toward the cost of brick sidewalks along the Town Commn to match the walk in front of Town Hall. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
August 17, 2010
STURBRIDGE — While dirt paths cut along the edges of the Town Common are more historically accurate than other potential walkways, they won't have the same long-term aesthetic impact on the town's historic district as bricks.

Nothing has yet been laid in beds prepared for brick sidewalks along the western portion of Route 131, but while the town waits for the state to decide just how much money they're going to cough up for the over budget road project, the Board of Selectmen are seeking some other possible options for installing the sidewalks.

In early July, the Board voted 3-2 in favor of brick sidewalks in the area — an additional $176,000 worth of work on top of the milling and resurfacing project funded by the state Department of Transportation.

The total project cost, which included a 10-percent contingency assurance, according to DOT, was $4.9 million. That 10-percent contingency equaled just more than $493,886, which selectmen initially had hoped would be sufficient to cover the costs of the brick sidewalks so the $176,000 would not have to be added to the town's tax rolls.

On July 23, Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski said DOT informed him of an $800,000 cost overrun because of unforeseen rock and ledge removal, which would use up all of the contingency money and then some.

While the actual installation of the bricks has stalled as DOT re-examines the project's budget, the plan to have the sidewalks put in has not.

On Monday, an abbreviated Board of Selectmen discussed some alternative sources of funding that could be used in lieu of state funds, should DOT decline to increase the overall budget. If the budget is increased at the state level though, it would subsequently increase the contingency amount allotted for overruns and could still potentially cover the cost of the bricks.

Selectmen Mary Blanchard and Scott Garieri, the two opposing votes in the initial 3-2 decision approving the brick sidewalks, were not present Monday.

Selectman Thomas Creamer, who chaired Monday's meeting, suggested contacting the town's Community Preservation Committee to inquire about the potential for CPC funds to be used.

The mission of the Community Preservation Act is to protect open space and historic resources, as well as create affordable housing and communal recreation facilities.

Selectman Ted Goodwin, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Board, suggested tapping into the town's Chapter 90 money.

"We do have a fallback," Goodwin said.

The Chapter 90 program provides 100-percent reimbursement for road-related projects including "shoulders, side road approaches, landscaping and tree planting, roadside drainage, structures (including bridges), and sidewalks," according to DOT.

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