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Square mission accomplished
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Monroes downtown Square and businesses are open and festively lit in time for the holiday season, after reconstruction of the streetscape and infrastructure. E&N Hughes was the general contractor and Fehr-Graham was the engineering firm for the $4.1 million project, which started June 8.

Six Months of Streetscaping

A look back at significant developments in the Downtown Square Streetscape reconstruction project:

Feb. 18, 2009 - A resolution passed by the Monroe Common Council calls for removing parking meters on the Square.

March 16 - Bids for replacing the water mains are due, signaling the start of a full summer of reconstruction.

May 19 - The council unanimously gives the go-ahead for the $4.1 million project.

May 28 - The groundbreaking ceremony takes place on the Square. The city's finances for the project are coming slower than expected, and Mayor Ron Marsh will not sign off for the project to begin until he has loan confirmation in hand.

June 3 - The City receives word that project funding has been approved by the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. Approved through the State Trust Fund Loan Program, Monroe's loan is for $4.2 million. Terry Hughes of E&N Hughes names his brother, Todd, as project foreman.

June 8 - E & N Hughes begins work at the northeast corner. Traffic is routed to the center ring at the northeast section. City crews remove signs, trash cans and other items from the first construction area in preparation for the work.

June 13 - E & N Hughes plans to install a new water main, service laterals and storm sewers in the northeast section. The company is pounding through three feet of solid rock to place the new sanitary pipeline at the correct level.

June 22 - The first sidewalk is carefully pulled away by the back claw. Later, the Schultz Pharmacy sidewalk meets its demise a bit more aggressively, as huge chunks fall into the empty coal vault below.

June 27 - Construction work at the corner of 17th Avenue and 10th Street. Customers on the northeast corner still are walking in the gravel.

July 1 - Vehicles occasionally go astray. Driving downtown is definitely "out of the box" and some interesting rescue moves are observed - often with guidance from a crewman or pedestrian.

July 20 - The Board of Public Works authorizes Fehr-Graham & Associates to seek bids for streetlights and installation. The cost will run about $312,000.

July 21 - A gas leak occurs after crews hit a line under the parking ramp.

Aug. 12 - With the city's decision to remove steps up to the north-side sidewalk, and replace them with stairs more friendly to those with disabilities, businesses will endure another two to three weeks of construction.

Aug. 24 - At least two people have put themselves in danger by entering blocked construction zones. Construction crews will be connecting the 16th Avenue area to a new water line.

Sept. 17 - More than 100 old pavers are unearthed, and being made available as souvenirs to residents. The cache, relatively untouched since 1889, was part of the street in front of the original city hall in the northwest corner of the Spring Square parking lot. The last concrete construction work covered up the area about 60 years ago. Dump trucks and back hoes outnumber pedestrians. Watching the "dance of the backhoes" has become a new source of entertainment.

Oct. 7 - Construction workers turn their attention toward the last intersection at 11th Street and 17th Avenue.

Oct. 12 - The Board of Public Works votes to spend up to $32,000 to purchase materials needed to pour concrete during cold weather to get the inner ring finished this year.

Nov. 3 - The outer ring is opened completely and is celebrated with the illuminating of the new antique-style street lights.

Nov. 12 - Subcontractors are standing by to start pouring cement on the inner ring.

Dec. 5 - The issue of timed parking and permits still is unsettled.

- By Tere Dunlap

MONROE - Birthing pains for the new streetscape in Monroe's historic downtown Square are officially over.

Light now floods the sidewalks from period-style lamp posts. Old gray, metal parking meters that once lined the streets are gone, replaced by wispy, young trees, recently decorated with miniature lights for the holiday season.

And people are beginning to return.

"It far exceeds the expectations of all of us," said Barb Nelson, executive director of Monroe Main Street.

The new design is more inviting. It has slowed traffic down, and more people are seen walking around the Square and using the benches in front of some retail stores, Nelson said.

"What we are leaving is historical preservation and enhancement," she said.

The $4.1 million project is more than beautification. Half of the money spent went into replacing underground utilities, infrastructure that was installed 60 years ago.

After years of "patchwork" repairs, "it was crucial to get under there," Nelson said.

The timing of the streetscape project and the infrastructure replacement was carefully planned by the city.

"TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds as a mechanism allowed for not only beautification and preservation, but also for work the city faced anyway," Nelson said.

While streets were opened up, city utilities replaced water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines. The electrical wiring was upgraded and fiber optics installed by the electrical and telephone companies.

"It would have been nearly impossible for the city to do this, especially during this current budget time," Nelson added.

The TIF also helped Monroe's Historical Preservation Commission fund a facade program. Independently-owned, local retailers in the historic district have invested more than $210,000 to replace, improve or upgrade their store fronts, meeting strict standards that will return the look of buildings to their original design. HPC approved $99,000 in grants toward the improvements. Several other retail stores are awaiting approval.

There was no fanfare Wednesday, Dec. 3, when the last trucks and construction equipment left and the entire Square was reopened. Nelson said Monroe Main Street is considering a celebration in the spring.