Flint, MI—As construction season winds down, the city of Flint’s plan for brick restoration on S. Saginaw Street draws closer to implementation–and that may mean fewer bricks.
Termed the ‘Saginaw Street Restoration Project,’ the plan will reconstruct the segment of S. Saginaw Street from Court Street to Riverbank Park, block by block, beginning in May 2022 pending MDOT and City Council approvals.
The plan calls for replacing the street segment’s intersections with colored pavement, stamped in a brick pattern, while otherwise keeping all five lanes as brick.
It also includes paved and repainted crosswalks that will not be stamped and the possibility of sidewalk improvements should funds allow.
“If you drive down Saginaw Street, you will know it,” said Mark Adas about why the city put forth the project, which was already in discussion when he began his role as City Engineer in 2016. “The bricks are shifting, they’re getting really rough, there’s lots of dips.”
The city’s original plan for S. Saginaw Street was presented to Flint’s Historic District Commission for feedback prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Heather Burnash, Chair of Flint’s Historic District Commission.
That plan reduced the segment of Saginaw Street to just three lanes of bricks—northbound, southbound, and the center turn lane—and replaced the outer parking lanes with concrete.
“We looked at it and told them ‘No, we would not approve that,’” she said.
Neither would the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, reported Kevin Cook, a civil engineer with Wade Trim, the engineering firm that was hired to help draft the restoration plan.
That approval was an important initial step, he told the HDC at their August meeting, as the project’s federal funding requires SHPO approval.
Both SHPO and Flint’s Historic District Commission felt it was important to keep all the lanes as brick so as not to “detract” from the historical nature of the area, according to Cook. However, they agreed the street’s crosswalks have to be paved and painted to address safety concerns and ADA compliance.
“So then the discussion became, ‘Okay, what happens inside of that because basically you’re creating a square. You’re tracing a square with the four crosswalks at an intersection,” said Burnash.
Cook and Adas decided to fill in those ‘squares’ with pavement to give greater structural integrity to the remaining bricks, which Adas said were only meant to last 40-50 years when they were put down in the 1930s.
“(The intersections are) where the most damage happens to the bricks because when people turn it causes the bricks to shift sideways in weird directions,” said Adas. “It should help block friction from section to section.”
The updated plan gained 6-0 approval from the HDC, with Commissioner Joe Schipani asking that the paved intersections be color-matched and stamped so they wouldn’t “stand out like a sore thumb” among the remaining bricks.
Cook and Adas said that was “not an issue” and they would return to the commission with options when they became available.
Aside from paved intersections, the plan also calls for as many of the original bricks as possible to be reused in the restoration process—a particularly important point for Commissioner Burnash.
“My grandfather was a bricklayer,” she said. “He laid the bricks on Saginaw Street. …It’s just as important to me as it is to everyone else in the city.”
Adas and Cook estimated about 60% of the bricks will be salvageable. The rest will need to be sourced from a company that removes and resells historical pavers.
“They don’t manufacture paving bricks like they did then,” said Adas. “They were heated like four times hotter than bricks on buildings, and they’re baked for two or three days. So, It would be super costly for a manufacturer to do it nowadays.”
Adas said the plan is to mix Flint’s salvageable bricks with the sourced historical bricks, so the roadway looks uniform when completed.
Aside from aesthetics, some downtown stakeholders noted their bigger concern is what long-term construction means for downtown businesses.
“First and foremost, I just want to make sure that my small businesses know that this is happening, and that people are able to know where to park and how to patronize them when this is happening,” said Kiaira May, interim executive director for Flint’s Downtown Development Authority.
“That’s why we’re doing one block at a time,” he said, so construction can halt with minimal disruption to major events and businesses on each block aren’t affected through the entire reconstruction period.
The Historic District Commission approval is good for one year, so the city will need to begin construction before August 2022 or bring the plan back before the commission again.
The plan is now awaiting MDOT review before the city can bid out the construction contract, put the plan before City Council and, if approved, begin their proposed restoration work in spring of 2022.