November 25, 2008

Ithaca Looks to Update Infrastructure on the Commons

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While the jagged sidewalks and century-old pipeline add to the historic charm of the Commons, these outdated facilities are also a major area of concern. Last night, the Ithaca Common Council held a special meeting to discuss a $250,000 Commons Upgrade Project, which would appoint a professional design company to plan an overhaul for the Commons’s infrastructure.
The plan will be comprehensive, targeting a wide range of problem areas in the Commons including broken sidewalks, old public utilities and outdated fire facilities.
Joann Cornish, acting planning director, stressed that the project will only remain in the scope of planning and investigation.
“We are not committed to build anything,” Cornish said.
Cornish also stressed the critical importance of public opinion several times during her presentation. A large portion of the money will be used to gather public input, according to Steven Thayer, City Controller.
Developing the plan will take 5000 to 8000 hours of specialized professional work, estimated Bill Gray, superintendent of public works. While the City will be closely involved in the project, Gray emphasized the necessity of contracting it to a company.
“They have the staff and time to do this. They also bring expertise which we don’t use on a daily basis,” Gray said.
Although most Council Members agreed on the need to improve existing infrastructure, some members also raised questions about the timing of the project. Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) pointed out that the project was approved in the fall of 2007, prior to the current economic downturn.
“[The economic meltdown] changed the entire issue for me. I voted for the project before, and I understand that there are infrastructures that we have to do something about, but I don’t see the urgency,” Cole said.
An internal committee of 23 city staff drafted a project schedule and Request for Qualification for design firms. After releasing the request on Aug. 1, the city received 13 responses from qualified firms. According to Phyllisa DeSarno, Deputy Director for Economic Development, the selection process has already narrowed down to one company.