Athol seeking grant for Walnut Street upgrade

  • Athol Assistant Public Works Director Dick Kilhart, grant consultant Linda Overing, and Planning and Development Director Eric Smith discuss plans for a Community Development Block Grant during Tuesday’s meeting of the Selectboard. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

  • Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith, grant consultant Linda Overing, and Assistant Public Works Director Dick Kilhart, from left in the foreground, discuss the application for an $800,000 Community Development Block Grant at Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting. Listening are, from left, Town Counsel John Barret, board members William Chiasson and Stephen Raymond, board Chair Rebecca Bialecki, members Lee Chauvette and Holly Raymond and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 2/20/2020 10:34:28 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 10:34:17 PM

ATHOL – At its meeting Tuesday, the Selectboard took a series of votes necessary to move ahead with a Community Development Block Grant application for funds to improve Walnut Street between Church and Union streets. The town is seeking the maximum $800,000 available through the block grant program, which is administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“The project we’re proposing is Phase One for Walnut Street,” said grant consultant Linda Overing of Breezeway Farm Consulting, based in New Salem. “The public hearing ad also mentions doing improvements to Union Street and that pre-dated when we got our final budget numbers. So, I want to be clear that the project we’re proposing only is going from Church Street to the intersection with Union, but we’re not proposing any improvements to Union Street itself.”

“Much in the same manner as what you saw on Marble Street,” said Assistant Public Works Superintendent Dick Kilart, “you’ll see subsurface work for water and sewer replacement, some drainage replacement. We did (look at) the drainage structure that’s there, so some of that can be saved.

“You will see that section of road be resurfaced, similar to what you see out here at Marble Street, as part of that first phase. Subsequently, in the following year — it will actually be two construction seasons down the road — Phase Two will be the lower end of Walnut Street, that will turn onto Canal and, depending upon funding, may include part of Union Street.”

“One of the things, when we were looking at the design,” Overing continued, “we wanted to address the fact that the town is now a Complete Streets Community with the goal of making bicycle-safe passageways connecting the different parks. Fish Park is a prominent destination. So, we looked at the possibility of creating a separate bike lane.

“But, looking at the practicality, we’re recommending that we do not do that. Listening to the residents, there is a lot of on-street parking, especially on the north side of Walnut Street. We still want to encourage safe bike use. We would do that through signage and ‘share’ symbols, which remind you to watch out for bicyclists.”

Overing added that to make Walnut Street safer for pedestrian and bicycle traffic the road will be widened slightly. To accommodate the widening, she said, an existing green strip between the street and the sidewalk on the north side of the street will be eliminated.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to apply for the block grant and to allow Town Manager Shaun Suhoski to sign the application on the town’s behalf.

Members also voted without dissent to commit nearly $46,000 in so-called program income to the project. Other town funds which will be used include just under $31,000 to help cover construction costs, and $16,200 from the grant match account to help pay for engineering fees.

The town’s Shade Tree Commission is also recommending funding for trees that can be planted the private property of homeowners on the north side of the street.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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