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Construction signs on Lebanon pedestrian mall for tunnel project raise ire of merchants

  • Rick Roesch, of Etna, crosses the walking mall in Lebanon, N.H., to get to the Eyeglass Outlet Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Signs were placed in the area Tuesday warning of construction slated to begin in April on the reconstruction and improvement of a tunnel running under the mall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Stone, of White River Junction, owner of Stone Smith Movement Studio on the walking mall in Lebanon, N.H.,, learned just last week that the entrance to his business will be inaccessable when construction on a tunnel under the mall begins in April. Stone walks from his business to an informational meeting about the project held by the city in Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Signs warning of construction on the walking ball in Lebanon, N.H., slated to begin in April were posted Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, angering several business owners who said the signs deter customers. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An artist's rendering of the renovated rail tunnel proposed for downtown Lebanon. (City of Lebanon image)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2020 10:41:28 PM
Modified: 1/21/2020 10:41:30 PM

LEBANON — Signs that went up Tuesday morning implying that the Lebanon Mall was closed to pedestrians were installed by mistake and will be removed, city officials have said.

The black and orange placards were put up by employees of Concord-based company E.D. Swett, which was contracted by Lebanon to renovate the rail tunnel that runs under the mall.

On Tuesday evening, officials promised business owners the mishap wouldn’t be repeated.

“Today was a miscommunication. I understand why every single person in this room is upset,” Deputy City Manager Paula Maville told about 20 people gathered inside a meeting room in the Whipple Block.

“From this point forward, we will do better, OK? Today was a big mistake,” she added.

Merchants said the signs, which read “Plaza Closed Under Construction,” came with no notice and discouraged customers from accessing stores.

Others said the messages were confusing, since they were paired with contradictory “Lebanon Mall Businesses Open” signs.

Work is ongoing to move utilities — including electric and cable lines — in the roughly 300-foot tunnel, and crews weren’t adequately informed of updated plans, said Chris Robert, a project manager with the firm.

“My guys went a little haywire and did what they did today,” Robert acknowledged, adding that the mall will not be fully closed during the upcoming construction.

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who owns the Lebanon Diner, was among those who said they were “blindsided” by the move.

“It’s very disconcerting that construction signs went up today without people knowing,” Liot Hill said during the at-times heated meeting.

Businesses were similarly irked to hear plans of the tunnel work, which begins in earnest in April. Roughly 30 parking spaces near the Lebanon Diner could be taken as crews demolish and rebuild the tunnel walls and roof.

The $2.5 million project, which will be completed in phases, also will affect pedestrian access to some businesses, Robert warned.

Scott Stone, owner of the Stone-Smith Movement Studio, said he learned last week the business’s front door could be inaccessible.

“I don’t really see that working,” he said. “If I shut down the fire department’s front doors, they’re not going to be able to fight fires, will they?”

Officials say the tunnel work will be completed in May 2021, but construction will largely be wrapped up this November.

They also promised to better update and communicate their intentions to businesses ahead of potential closures.

Access to the tunnel and about 20 parking spaces above have been closed since 2014 when engineers found the structure was in “poor to very poor condition.”

At the time, chunks of cement were reported to be falling from its ceiling and expanding cracks were seen in the pavement above shortly before the closing.

Designs for the new tunnel show a system of crosswalks and sidewalks directing people from the city’s lower parking lot into the tunnel, which would run under the Lebanon Mall and Hanover Street before ending at a stone-covered trail area near Route 4.

While the tunnel would be lighted, a large skylight would provide natural light as well. Lebanon’s Arts and Culture Commission also had discussed incorporating public art into the path.

Both designs are intended to make the tunnel more welcoming than its predecessor, which police said was home to illicit activities such as arson, graffiti and sex.

On the mall level, engineers have proposed building a circular plaza around an enclosure housing the skylight.

A railing would allow passersby to look down into the tunnel safely.

The top level could be accessed by either a redesigned Hanover Street parking lot or a new staircase that would be accessible from the city’s lower parking lots.

Trail advocates say the tunnel is an important link that will connect the 58-mile Northern Rail Trail to the Mascoma River Greenway, an extension that would run from downtown Lebanon to West Lebanon.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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