Ottumwa Mayor: Delay in east Main construction 'worth it'

Construction in the 500 block of East Main Street frustrates business owners, and neighbors/KTVO

A major construction project in downtown Ottumwa that was supposed to wrap up several weeks ago, has been placed on hold until next spring.

With each passing day, neighbors are becoming more impatient.

"I just wish they'd get it done," said Terri Shaw, who lives at Hillside Apartments, smack-dab in the middle of the seemingly endless road closure.

City leaders tell KTVO the process may be frustrating now, but the finished product is guaranteed to last for many decades to come.

“Anytime you do underground work, you never know what you’re going to find," said Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio. "Whether it be lines that aren’t marked, or sewers that are broken... and that’s why we’re doing all this at the same time. We’re doing sewer work, water work, gas lines and cabling so that we have all new equipment in there because some of that sewer is actually 100 years old, and it just keeps collapsing.”

The project stretches four blocks along East Main Street. The road work started at Jefferson Street in April 2018, and is scheduled to end at Vine Street spring of 2019.

Shaw said all the construction is getting in the way of her daily routine.

"I take the bus and I used to pick it up on Main Street, right in front of, I have to walk up to Reece Funeral Home, down to the driveway to get picked up," Shaw said. "Try going up that hill with a walker, a cane, it's next to impossible."

Lazio said he's aware of these concerns.

"We've received a fair amount of negative comments from businesses, and people on social media," he said. "We're sensitive to that, but we've got to follow approved state standards."

When crews make repairs to a water main, the city is required to submit a water sample to the Department of Natural Resources, which will then send a passing or failing score.

"We had quite a big of difficulty getting the water system to pass its bacteria test," Seals said. "And when you start losing three to four weeks, your construction season really just kind of disappears."

Now ground temperatures are too cold to begin the paving process, so construction has been halted until spring.

"We had hoped that we would be done by the end of November, or first part of December, and here we are, into December with cold, freezing weather and all the obstacles we ran into, it has really pushed us back several weeks," Lazio said. "It's frustrating for the city, it's frustrating for the business people. It is going to put a strain on those local businesses, and they feel it in their revenues."

Affected businesses include Schimm's Cafe at 526 East Main St.
Schimm's Owner Dale Schimmelpfennig tells KTVO he decided to temporarily close his doors in September for the safety of his customers.

"It is difficult to get there," Lazio said. "We've tried to give him graveled access, or signs to let people know because people who are here in town might know it, but if you're from out of town, you don't know where to go, sometimes, to get to the detours."

The mayor adds any job worth doing, is worth doing right.

"It's painful to get through," Lazio said. "You run into all kinds of complications and things you're not planning on, but the end product will be a very nice, smooth route for people to come into town on.... It'll be worth it."

Seals said the bulk of the ground work is done. The project's finish is expected to move along much faster in the spring.

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