COLUMBIA — Bricks lined downtown Short Street for more than 100 years. It took less than a day to remove them.
Workers stripped the one-block street of its brick surface Tuesday. The removal was the first step toward two construction projects set to begin in the area: The planned DoubleTree by Hilton hotel at Broadway and Short Street and a parking garage at Short and Walnut streets.
On Tuesday morning, Short Street was closed on the order of the City Council. Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said workers used a skid loader to remove the bricks, which have been moved temporarily to the city’s landfill. Stedem said the method was the most cost-effective way to remove the bricks, many of which were damaged from use.
It was the city’s first stripping of a brick street, Stedem said. The city's current plan for the bricks is to use them to repair Columbia's existing brick streets, rather than to repave Short Street when it reopens.
On Thursday afternoon, the bricks sat in 14 piles about 4 feet high at the landfill. Many were cracked from a century of wear and caked with dirt. Beneath the dirt, traces of their original red hue remained visible.
There was no official count of the bricks removed from the street. According to dimensions provided by Cynthia Mitchell, the city’s landfill and recovery superintendent, roughly 25,000 full-sized bricks once lined the street.
A Nov. 7 report from the Public Works Department indicates 60 percent of the bricks on Short and Seventh streets may be salvageable. That would leave about 15,000 bricks removed from Short Street for repair projects.
According to the Columbia Historical Preservation Commission’s website, Short Street was one of the oldest brick-paved streets in the city, finished in 1909. Also paved in 1909 were Lee Street and Bouchelle and Glenwood avenues.
In 2010, the commission designated all of Columbia’s brick streets as Most Notable Property. The designation increases visibility of the property on the city website and walking tours but does not protect against development or sale. Other properties designated since the commission’s inception in 1998 include the Missouri Theatre, the Central Dairy Building on Broadway, the Jewell Cemetery and Douglass High School.
In the next couple of weeks, the bricks will be placed onto pallets for storage and moved to a secure location, Stedem said. They will be stored on pallets for organizational and storage purposes, not to protect them from the elements — the bricks have been exposed to the weather for more than a hundred years, Stedem said.
The city plans to use them to repair remaining brick streets as needed. Mitchell said Thursday that a city subcontractor had already been out to collect some of the bricks for use in streets needing repair.
Brent Gardner, vice chairman for the Historic Preservation Commission, said his organization has met with city staff to stress its desire that none of the brick blocks downtown be lost. He described the commission’s effort to maintain brick streets downtown as "a never-ending battle."
"We’ve become the caretakers of the bricks," Gardner said.
Gardner said the proposal to use the bricks for repair of other streets was an initial middle-ground position with the city by his organization, which has emphasized the economic development potential brick roads provide.
"It’s like an organ donor program to save other brick streets," Gardner said.
Gardner said the current city plan, which has suggested using concrete to fill Short Street when it reopens, ignores a second part of the proposal: to fill Short Street with new bricks.
Added to the resolution closing Short Street passed by the City Council on Dec. 19 was a Public Works Department report that indicated when the street reopens in 2013, it will move several feet to the west and be replaced with concrete. The Nov. 7 report provides costs for three options for brick street renovations: using historic bricks, using modern bricks and replacing the bricks with concrete.
The estimated costs in the report are provided per square yard. The current dimensions of Short Street comprise 747 square yards, although it might widen when it's moved.
If the reopened Short Street remains at current dimensions, the cost of using historic bricks would be nearly $142,000; using modern bricks, more than $123,000; and replacing the street with concrete, nearly $71,000. The higher costs for historic bricks take into account the need to replace damaged bricks.
Gardner emphasized that although brick is up to twice as expensive initially, it has lasted five times longer than asphalt in Columbia without maintenance.
Gardner said the commission wants new bricks to be used to pave Short Street when it reopens. He noted that several shopping centers in Columbia have used modern brick crosswalks and that he has received several positive comments from residents about the brick streets downtown.
On Wednesday, Stedem said no pavement plans had been finalized for the reopened Short Street.