COLUMBIA — Soft scrapes and taps from trowels loosened hardened dirt from century-old bricks as a crew worked Wednesday and Thursday to repair a small section of Seventh Street downtown.
The workers, from Cook Concrete Construction, revealed the faded patina of hundreds of bricks before pouring an 8-inch concrete base and relaying the pavers to create a smooth surface near Seventh Street's intersection with Locust Street. Then they poured a half inch of sand over the bricks to fill the small gaps between them.
The restoration was the final step in repairing the street after an Aug. 18 water main break, said Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light department spokeswoman. She said there's no final estimate on the cost of the repair.
Justin Cook of Cook Concrete Construction said the company got the job because of its expertise in brick street work.
Cook said brick-street repairs are more expensive than other street work because of the time it takes to clean individual bricks. The company does a few brick jobs per year, he said.
"The hardest part is finding old bricks to put back to repair the street," Cook said. In this case, however, the crew simply used the bricks that were there before the water line broke.
The concrete foundation that Cook Construction poured before resetting the bricks will ensure they don't sink into the soil. That's a strategy that advocates of brick streets downtown hope the city will use elsewhere.
The Historic Preservation Commission has been working for some time to prepare a Comprehensive Brick Street Policy. Rachel Bacon, city planner and staff liaison to the commission, said the policy would provide guidelines for saving historic bricks and rebuilding sections of brick streets in Columbia.
Commission Vice Chairman Brent Gardner is among the leading supporters of brick streets. He said they are a greener solution and require less maintenance than concrete or asphalt designs that break down and require regrading and repaving.
Gardner recalled the debate about whether Short Street should remain a brick lane after construction of the city parking garage. Gardner acknowledged it would cost about $60,000 more to pave the new Short Street with bricks, but he said it would be worth it.
"Over the life of the bricks, it is much cheaper," Gardner said. "There's no work to be done for 80 to 100 years."
Bricks salvaged from Short Street are being stored for future repairs to other brick streets in Columbia. The commission's policy calls on the city to make additional repairs to exposed brick streets and to reveal pavers elsewhere that are hidden beneath layers of asphalt.
Gardner said he'd like to the city begin by exposing Cherry Street's bricks all the way to Flat Branch Park.
Gardner attributed drivers' concerns about wavy or bumpy brick streets to the lack of a strong foundation. When the bricks were laid a century ago, they were placed directly on dirt. With a concrete foundation underneath, he said, bricks "would be very easy to drive on."
The Historic Preservation Commission maintains a map of brick streets, including those already paved over, Bacon said. She added that efforts to preserve brick streets are not unique to Columbia.
"A lot of cities consider brick streets a part of their cultural heritage and downtown," Bacon said.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.