19th century delays city sidewalk project

Coal chutes, other relics get in the way

Holy hoop skirts and handle-bar mustaches. Nineteenth-century anachronisms are holding up the advancement of the 21st century in Durango.

The city’s past is resurfacing as the city rips up sidewalk to lay junction boxes and new conduits for fiber optic and electric services on Main Avenue. The city also is making necessary infrastructure improvements for electric car-charging stations, said city officials during a City Council study session Tuesday.

On Monday, contractors discovered a coal chute under the sidewalk in front of Duranglers Flies and Supplies, 923 Main Ave.

“We’re running into these situations almost on a block-by-block basis,” City Engineer Gregg Boysen said. “This is a surprise to us. We thought we knew where the majority of these were, but we’re finding some built in the 1880s.”

Downtown businesses once were heated with coal-burning furnaces or boilers. Suppliers would drop coal down a chute on the sidewalk, which merchants would access from their basements. Some coal compartments were quite big, 5- to 6-feet wide and 30 feet long, Boysen said.

Some businesses have converted the coal compartments into storage spaces, but other compartment doors were apparently sealed off and forgotten, becoming hollowed space underneath the sidewalk.

Engineers and contractors are now looking at resupporting coal-chute areas where some “wood ribbing has rotted and fallen down,” Boysen said. “These beams are old railroad rails.”

On Tuesday, an old but still-active 1-inch water line, encased in concrete, also was found underneath the sidewalk in the 1000 block of Main Avenue. Officials were previously unaware it existed because it was not connected to a meter, Boysen said.

All these anachronisms must be addressed as the city races toward a deadline of finishing Main Avenue sidewalk replacement between Seventh and 14th streets before the busy tourist season starts in June.

Officials would like to have most of the work wrapped up sooner, because Memorial Day Weekend and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic festivities will begin May 24, and the Taste of Durango is set to be held the weekend of May 19. The food-tasting street party cannot be moved to Buckley Park because the food booths must be handy to the restaurants preparing the sample dishes, said Bob Kunkel, the city’s business development manager.

To meet a grant-funding deadline by June 1, an electric car-charging station on the south side of Eighth Street at Narrow Gauge Avenue and two other electric car-chargers at Durango Transit Center must become operational by the summer, too.

Car-charging stations also would be part of the parking meters at the end of each block on Main Avenue downtown but it is not known when these car-charging stations would be ready for use.

Boysen said the street project should pick up speed as work progresses and makes up for delays.

“We’re almost on schedule,” Boysen said. “We’re just a couple of days behind.”

He said the city had planned to spend two weeks per block to do improvements, but to stay on schedule, it will have to cut that to a week and a half per block.

Kunkel said the city coordinated with downtown businesses such as Carver Brewing Co. and Velorution bicycle shop so they could plan their renovations during the same time as the sidewalk reconstruction.

After the summer tourist season, the city’s goal is to finish the sidewalk project with improvements to the side streets off Main Avenue.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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