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‘Muddy mess’—Wellsville Planning boss says sidewalks substandard

February 10th, 2014 Posted in Opinion

By Sarah Romero

WELLSVILLE—Buried in snow, Wellsville’s brand-new sidewalk provides a safe way for children to walk to school. But some residents say the sidewalk looks anything but new.

Residents and some city officials are disappointed in the quality of concrete sidewalks installed in December between 300 North and 400 North on Center Street, and between 200 East and 300 East on Main Street.

Under the Wellsville Range. Ted Pease photo

Under the Wellsville Range. ©Ted Pease photo

“I’m very concerned,” said John Spence, chair of the city planning commission. “Some of it looks like my grandson played in the mud with a trowel.”

Spence, whose home borders the new sidewalk, says the sidewalks are uneven in some places and a “muddy mess.” He said the city should have waited until spring to install them.

City councilman Carl Leatham says the city had the work done during the winter because of a deadline on state funding for the project.

“We got grant money that was ‘use it or lose it,’ so we tried to get it done,” Leatham said. “But that doesn’t condone poor workmanship.”

In the middle of town on Center Street, two existing sidewalks ended a block away from each other, leaving a gap. Joel Jensen of JJ Construction was hired to fill the gap, but couldn’t start until November because the city was slow to obtain state permits, which are necessary when building on state property. Jensen says he did the best he could.

“We got it to the point where we could wait and come back in the spring to do the final cleanup,” he said. “When the snow melts we’ll figure out what needs to be done and what needs to be replaced.”

Spence, the planning commission chair, says Jensen will have to redo a large portion of the sidewalks. He says the unevenness is a safety hazard for him and his family, and the new sidewalks line up crookedly with the old ones.

Jensen said the sidewalks couldn’t be completely straight because the existing ones were not equal distances from the curb.

“We had to angle this last section so the sidewalks wouldn’t be staggered so bad,” he said. “It’s not an uncommon thing to do. There’s no written rule that says a city sidewalk has to be perfectly straight.”

City council member Glenna Petersen was assigned to oversee the sidewalk committee. She said they knew the project would be difficult from the beginning because of winter conditions and uneven topography.

City engineer Chris Breinholt worked with the committee to overcome some of the challenges. “It was nothing unusual, but one home was built up higher, another went down to a driveway, and people had landscaped to the curb where we needed to put a sidewalk in,” he said.

Jensen said the landscaped yards and existing sidewalks made the job more difficult.

“When you deal with existing sidewalk and landscape, it’s nearly impossible to match it all up,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to accommodate every single landscape, so there’s going to be areas that get changed a little bit here and there.”

Before the project began, the committee assessed areas that had the greatest need for a new sidewalk. They chose Main and Center streets because students at Wellsville Elementary School will eventually move to a new location at the far south end of the city.

“We’ve been trying to decide how to get these kids safely to the school now they’ve switched where they’re at,” Petersen said.

The new sidewalks are a part of the statewide Safe Sidewalk Program, Petersen said. Under this program, the Utah Department of Transportation will provide funding for construction of new sidewalks if certain criteria are met.

The grant money paid for the sidewalk on Center Street, but the city had to pay for the one on Main Street, Petersen said.

But Spence said the city shouldn’t be using tax money to pay for such poor-quality sidewalks.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “They put a lot of work and effort into trying to get money for some nice sidewalks. There’s a lot of money involved here and I think they’ve wasted it. I feel like they’ve done a really poor job.”

There also has never been a formal contract between the city and the contractor. Spence said he was “appalled” that the city had no contract, because now there is no legal agreement to hold Jensen accountable for his work.

“So it was a handshake.” Spence said. “That’s the way we do business in Wellsville? With a handshake?”

City Manager Don Hartle said that for “smaller jobs” like this one, Wellsville doesn’t require a formal contract. “That’s kind of the norm,” he said.

Jensen says he wants Wellsville to be happy with his work, and will return in the spring to finish the job and make any needed repairs.

“We will stand behind our work 100 percent,” he said. “We’ll get it taken care of and make everybody happy. We’ll do whatever it takes.”


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