St. Marys Town Councillors were presented with their options for the Knox Apartments steps earlier this evening, and it boils down to a difference of approximately $30,000 depending on whether they choose removal or repair.
In the end, they chose the repair option that also includes an enhancement, and directed administrative staff to include the approximately $45,000 cost in the proposed 2014 budget.
The stairs, constructed some time late in the first half of the 1900s, are situated alongside the road allowance for Elgin Street, between Church Street and Wellington Street. On the bottom, they meet the Elgin Street sidewalk where the vehicle roadway comes to a dead end. At the top, they currently reach only to the grass near the lower parking lot of the Knox Apartments — several metres down a hill from the Church Street sidewalk.
A 1954 newspaper photo included in this week’s report shows the railing that runs alongside the stairs originally did extend to the upper sidewalk. But a portion of the railing was removed at some point. The stairs themselves, it appears from the photo, never did extend beyond their current reach.
“The 2013 Capital Budget included funds to remove the concrete stairs and to re-grade the hillside area once the stairs were removed,” explained the Sept. 17 report. “This direction was taken due to the breaches in the retaining wall, causing falling stones and gravel onto the stairs, in addition to the number of stairs which are in need of repair.”
An report earlier this year to councillors revealed that the stairs themselves, as well as a steel railing on one side, are situated on town-owned land, but the crumbling wooden retaining wall is not. Later information clarified that the retaining wall is on a municipal right-of-way, but was constructed by the adjacent landowner when the apartment building was put up.
Citing concerns raised by residents after news got out that the stairs might be removed, Council asked staff to return with an estimate of what it might cost to have the stairs and retaining wall repaired and/or extended all the way to the Church Street sidewalk.
An assessment of the steps, conducted by the B.M. Ross engineering firm at the request of the Town, surmises that any repairs to the stairs would not need to adhere to Ontario Building Code guidelines. “The stairs cannot be considered a building, but a landscape feature,” states a July 23 letter from B.M. Ross to Senior Manager of Operations Chad Papple. The letter was provided to councillors in advance of the Sept. 17 meeting.
The engineering firm advises, nonetheless, that the Building Code be used as a guideline for any possible work. If that happens, the letter to Papple states, “it would be recommended to have some horizontal landings to break the rise into stages, if the stairs were to be built new today.”
A complete rebuilding of stairs, with or without landings, is not, however, among the options currently being considered.
Instead, B.M. Ross provided cost estimates for three possible solutions: Complete removal; fixing the existing stairs and replacing the retaining wall; and fixing the existing stairs, replacing the wall, and extending to Church Street using mostly a conventional sidewalk.
The portion between the existing stairs and Church Street “is a flatter slope and it is assumed that regular sidewalk will be adequate for most of it, except a short run of steps (maybe three or four),” the B.M. Ross letter explains. “Because of the grade, a handrail may be desirable along this new length.”
The difference between the two repair options is just over $6,000. Without the new stretch of sidewalk, the project would cost $38,100 plus HST; with the new stretch of sidewalk, it would cost $44,400 plus HST.
Removal and regrading of the hillside, meanwhile, is predicted by B.M. Ross to cost $9,700 plus HST — some $20,000 less than the amount originally set aside by Council in the 2013 budget.
“Both the retaining wall and stairs are in need of repair,” Papple advised in his Sept. 17 report — in which he sought further direction from Council. “Maintaining the stairs will provide continued convenience ... however, (the stairs) will require ongoing maintenance to ensure safety and functionality.”
Councillors appeared in agreement that the steps should be maintained; the only question then became whether the Town should find extra money from this year's surplus and complete the repairs in 2013, or keep the budgeted $30,000 for this year and include it as part of the $45,000 needed for next year.
CAO Kevin McLlwain noted that, if the project is completed this year, it will become incumbent on the municipality to spend money and resources keeping the steps and new sidewalk clear throughout the winter. Mayor Grose stated his belief that the steps have never been cleared of snow by the municipality, but agreed that if the repairs are done, clearing should be done.
With those factors in mind, Council agreed to delay the project until next year, but gave strong indication that they would approve the $45,000 for repairing and extending the steps, retaining wall, and railing.