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A Main Street Makeover: Claremont Plans Improvements

  • Photographed on May 14, 2014, a half-mile stretch of Claremont's Main Street is to receive a proposed $500,000 upgrade to its sidewalks and road surface between Union Street and Opera House Square. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Photographed on May 14, 2014, a half-mile stretch of Claremont's Main Street is to receive a proposed $500,000 upgrade to its sidewalks and road surface between Union Street and Opera House Square. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • An open flag waves in the wind in front of His Helping Hands food pantry on Main Street in Claremont, N.H., on May 14, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    An open flag waves in the wind in front of His Helping Hands food pantry on Main Street in Claremont, N.H., on May 14, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Photographed on May 14, 2014, a half-mile stretch of Claremont's Main Street is to receive a proposed $500,000 upgrade to its sidewalks and road surface between Union Street and Opera House Square. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • An open flag waves in the wind in front of His Helping Hands food pantry on Main Street in Claremont, N.H., on May 14, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Claremont — City officials are trying to decide how to get the most bang for their buck as they plan to make improvements on a half-mile stretch of Main Street west of Opera House Square.

The street is one of the primary gateways to downtown, and it is lined with several vacant buildings and deteriorating infrastructure.

“The sidewalk is a deterrent right now,” said Pauline Simino, who owns Leo’s Market on Main Street with her husband, Charlie. “If you fix the sidewalk, you would have more (foot) traffic.”

Simino spoke at an informational meeting on the $500,000 project held Tuesday night where residents provided feedback on the scope of the work.

At the meeting, Andrew O’Hearne, a Claremont police officer who lives on Main Street, said the sidewalk is so uneven it sometimes forces pedestrians into the street.

The majority of the roughly dozen people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting felt that a continuous sidewalk on the south side of the street from Union Street to the square is an absolute must. The Sugar River Mill apartments near the intersection of Main and Union streets are home to many elderly and low-income residents living without vehicles.

Some also suggested that the city consider building sidewalks on both sides of Main Street from the parking garage near the intersections with Water and Central streets up to the square.

Kurt Beek, community development project manager for the city, and Brian Colburn with the engineering firm McFarland Johnson, gave Tuesday night’s presentation on the project.

Beek said before the city begins with a design, officials want to hear from residents on what changes they would like to see. Construction is scheduled for summer 2015 with bids going out early next year. The roughly half-mile of road that will be repaired is narrow and in many sections only the sidewalk separates the buildings from the street so there is no possibility for widening, Beek said.

“We can’t do five-foot shoulders, (for bicycles) five-foot sidewalks and (two) 12-foot lanes,” he said. “There will have to be tradeoffs. The first priority will have to be pedestrians (not bicycle lanes).”

Beek said when the city first began discussing repairs to one of the main roads into the city center a few years ago, they were hoping to also replace underground water and sewer lines along with the road and sidewalk improvements at a total cost of $3.5 million.

Some funding sources, including the state’s revolving loan fund for water and sewer upgrades, have been suspended.

While the city will look for additional funding, as of now a $500,000 grant secured by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is the only money available to rebuild the sidewalk and resurface the street, Beek said.

“We are looking at what kind of project we can do with the funding we have,” Beek said.

A few in attendance Tuesday asked whether it was prudent to rebuild the street with the risk that the aging infrastructure below ground could break and require the new street to be dug up.

The water and sewer lines will last the life of the paving project, a maximum of 20 years, Colburn said.

The project will also include improved lighting, signage and crosswalk markings.

The next step is for the engineers to begin developing different alternatives for the work and present them to the City Council, possibly in June.

On Wednesday, the city was putting down a “skim coat” of pavement on the road that Beek said was being done to smooth it over for a year before the road is rebuilt.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.