BERLIN – A low-key groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning finally heralded the beginning of the long-awaited Flower St. sidewalk project.
Construction could begin as early as Nov. 1, officials estimate.
“This is a big day. It seems I’ve been waiting for it for a hundred years,” Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale said at the groundbreaking. “This is a lot more than a one man job. Staff has worked hard on this.”
The mayor singled out Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary, Special Projects Administrator Mary Bohlen and consultant Ed White, all in attendance.
“[Berlin Councilman] Elroy [Brittingham] has been a tremendous help in supporting the project. He deserves a lot of credit,” Cardinale said.
Around 20 community leaders, well-wishers and staffers watched the modest ritual, which consisted of a prayer led by a local reverend, a few remarks from the mayor and the ceremonial tossing of a pile of soft dirt with gold painted shovels.
The mayor called the sidewalk project just the beginning for the Flower St. community, historically African American and a bit isolated from the center of town.
“It’s not just going to be one point to the next and stop,” Cardinale said. “It’s not the end. It’s one more step to making your community better.”
Brittingham added, “It’s going to be a big improvement for the community and it increases the value of everybody’s land.”
In a later interview, Brittingham said, “It feels real good. I said I would try to get sidewalks. That grant coming down gave us a little booster that was a big help.”
There is so much traffic on Flower St., which is used to get to the high school and middle school, and as a cut through between the Seahawk Rd./Route 50 intersection and Route 113, that it can be quite dangerous for people to walk. The next project in improving the Flower St. community is a sidewalk on the other side of the street. This project will only cover one side.
Brittingham sees a lot of changes in the future.
“We’re working on low-income housing. We need housing, a mixture of houses,” Brittingham said. “We’ve been trying to get a new multi-purpose building. We were shot down before for a grant but we’ve got a grant in motion now.”
A piece of unused land next to Henry Park could be the next neighborhood amenity. Community leaders are tossing around ideas, such as adding soccer or football goals, and maybe a pavilion for picnics and special events.
Many churches already use Henry Park for gatherings, from as far away as Whaleyville, Brittingham said, and some groups have already used that flat field despite no improvements having been made yet.
“If we could get some more grant money, we could do a lot,” he said.
Before anything else, the sidewalks need to be completed.
The construction schedule calls for completion of the sidewalk by the end of 2007. If the town council approves one of the two contractors that have bid on the work at next week’s council meeting, construction could begin Nov. 1 as planned.
The entire project, including survey and design work, should cost just over $500,000. The town has budgeted $350,000 already, including $175,000 of a Community Development Block Grant.
“We need a couple hundred thousand more. I’ll go to the council and suggest using the fund balance,” said Bambary. “We have a pretty healthy fund balance.”
In 2006, Berlin had a $3 million fund balance.
Winter weather should not delay the project, she said.