COLUMBIA — Hiding underneath many streets in downtown Columbia are brick streets, some of which are more than 100 years old.
Brent Gardner, vice chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, has a vision to restore brick streets that were covered with asphalt in the 1950s and 1960s.
Restoring the brick streets is an idea that's been discussed for nearly six years, Gardner said.
When the city decided to work with property owners earlier this year to improve drainage in Alley A between Ninth and Tenth streets, the commission thought the location would be a good pilot project for brick streets.
“It wasn’t as wide as a regular street, and we thought it might be cheaper,” Gardner said.
In a City Council meeting in March, the city and Alley A property owners decided against repaving the alley with bricks because of the cost to repave the brick after fixing the alley’s drainage problem.
“Everyone seemed fine with that decision, and we continued our discussion on another spot,” Gardner said.
Gardner said the commission has decided to target a block of Cherry Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets. Cherry Street from Fourth to Seventh streets is already brick.
While this latest idea has yet to be officially proposed to the city, Gardner said the commission continues to discuss the issue.
“The most progress was made a couple months ago when we invited Public Works Director John Glascock to our meeting,” Gardner said. “We felt like we made a lot of progress with him. He was open to the idea.”
Public Works spokeswoman Jill Stedem said that if the city decides to restore any brick streets, the work will depend on the condition of the brick and the maintenance it will require.
Although Stedem said Public Works supports the commission’s endeavors to restore brick streets, she said those types of projects haven't been a priority because they are labor intensive and expensive to maintain.
“It’s not that there is no interest in preserving them; it’s just that there is no money in the budget at this time to preserve them,” Stedem said.
Stedem said brick streets require a different type of maintenance compared to asphalt streets. For example, bricks require a different type of blade for snow removal.
Stedem said there has not been any money budgeted in the brick streets account since fiscal year 2006. She said the only brick street worked on for major repairs since 2006 was on Bouchelle Avenue, and it cost $83,265.
“It was in pretty rough condition for quite some time,” Stedem said. “The city added it to the budget to have it fixed.”
While this brick preservation project could be an expensive one, Stedem said brick streets are aesthetically beautiful and would add historic value to the downtown area.
The Special Business District Board has yet to take a position on the brick streets project, Carrie Gartner, the executive director of The District, said.
“One of the big reasons is there is not a specific plan in mind,” Gartner said. “A lot of the concern is how much is this going to cost, and does the city have the money.”
While neither the commission nor the city have any set plans, the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council has discussed the brick street issue in previous meetings and was supportive, Council Chairman Randy Gray said.
“Brick streets are an authentic component of downtown Columbia and would further enhance its distinct character, which is something all of us continually strive for,” Gray said.
Although this has been a long-term project, Gardner has continued to keep the momentum going.
“It can be a little bit frustrating at times," Gardner said. "I’ve been working on this project for six years. But it’s no pressing issue, and public support has always been really strong.”