Mayor's State of the City address
Two and a half years ago I received a text from my good friend, Jason Holmes. “Thank you for the added business.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know Jason, he’s the owner of A Brown Liquor. As I hadn’t been in his store for a while, it took me a moment to process what he meant. Then I got it. At the time, 7th Street was undergoing significant construction consequently boxing in his two competitors. So, I picked up the phone and called him, applying the Billy Wilder approach: “If you're going to tell people the truth, be funny or they'll kill you.” I didn’t want Jason to kill me.
“Jason, I’m glad you’re experiencing an uptick in your business, but don’t get cocky. We are coming for you next, and the south Ohio project is going to suck a lot worse. I mean it’s really going to suck.”
Jason laughed, “I know… I know.”
Jason and I visit pretty regularly. In fact, we walked South Ohio together a couple days ago. He provides me with project “updates”. And every time I remind him, “Dude, I told you this project was going to suck. I think you underestimated my hyperbole.”
We knew at the outset of the project that it was going to be horrific. We did. We just didn’t have any idea how horrendous it would be. Road construction is easy. Infrastructure isn’t. You’re likely all aware that we’ve layered this project. Meaning, prior to reconstructing Ohio Street, we replaced all of the underground infrastructure, including water lines, sanitary sewer lines, and storm water lines. We are also burying the electric lines. We’re fixing all the infrastructure now so that we won’t have to cut into a brand new street later.
But what we found was far worse than expected. Our city engineer stated, “In my 26 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
He was describing a situation wherein a sewer line made a circle, literally made a circle, before it continued on its required path. When we asked him why. He had no idea. No one had any idea why.
A few weeks later, I was visiting with a friend who had recently retired from Kansas Gas. I was telling him the story about the sewer line. He just sort of chuckled, “I know why they did that.”
“Yeah, I know why. Your city guys didn’t have the tools to do the job correctly, to cut and thread the pipes. So, they took the parts they had and just made it work.”
I know south Ohio has been miserable. But we’re not just making it work. We are doing it right. And as a reminder, as part of this project, we’ve also added the largest single sidewalks project ever undertaken by our city. More on that in moment.
Substantial completion is expected in April when it will open for two-way traffic. And we anticipate the landscaping, grass and tree plantings to be completed in July.
More good news: The council is now targeting north Ohio for construction.
Don’t worry. The infrastructure on north Ohio isn’t an issue. Roads are easy. Infrastructure is hard.
Let’s shift gears and talk about Pride & Progress for a bit. In early 2015, we promised a full community makeover replete with multiple, quality of life amenities, nearly all of which had existed in plans for five, ten, even twenty years. Augusta voters overwhelmingly approved the one-cent Pride and Progress sales tax in April of 2015. As a reminder, Pride & Progress is about meeting our community’s WANTS. It’s not about needs, per se.
Phase I of the Pride & Progress Initiative is complete. Perhaps the highest profile and most popular project completed in 2017 was the Splash Pad. During my visits to all of our elementary schools, I typically take an informal poll of the students. They all approve. Unanimously.
Immediately adjacent the splash pad, we constructed a restroom facility with a stand-up people dryer. If you didn’t already know, it’s the only stand-up people dryer in the state of Kansas.
With support of grants from the Sunflower Foundation, we added even more walking trails around Shryock Park.
We also expanded and improved the parking lot at Shryock Park.
And with significant help from scores of volunteers, we rehabilitated our beloved “Castle Park” thus completing significant upgrades at our Shryock Park Complex.
For the anglers in our community, we added three fishing docks to our City Lake accompanied by ADA parking spaces.
And finally, disc golf. I know disc golf wasn’t actually funded through Pride & Progress. Disc golf was supported primarily by private donations. But those of you who know me, know I never pass on an opportunity to talk about our one-of-a-kind, glow-in-the-dark, 18-basket disc golf course. If you’ve never played, you really should try it. If it’s been a while since you last played, we’ve made a few improvements. Come check it out. And if you see me conducting one of my regular “facility audits,” jump on in and help me finish my “work”.
Phase II of Pride & Progress is underway. We are about halfway through the much-needed Garvin Park Concession Stand and Restroom facilities project. If you’ve driven through Garvin recently, you likely noticed two separate structures under construction. Adjacent our soft surface playground, we are building a small restroom. And closer to our baseball fields, will be a multi-use facility that includes a concession stand, restroom, and shelter. You should expect a ribbon cutting in March or April.
Very soon you will see us breaking ground on a new dog park in the old Meadowview Acres area. The dog park will feature a double-gated entryway making escape more difficult for our beloved puppies. We will also have separate areas specifically designated for large and small dogs.
Lake Road. This one seems to be garnering a great deal of attention of late. I reminded of something H. Jackson Brown, Jr. once said, “You can always tell when a man's well informed. His views are pretty much like your own.”
Candidly, I was an early and enthusiastic supporter of this project. Initial estimates indicated we could get a full-depth asphalt roadway on the east side of Lake Road for $450,000. We also believed we could lower our costs by combining the project with our Street Sales Tax road improvement projects. If I thought we could get a new road that improved the aesthetics of our beautiful Augusta City Lake, improved the overall safety driving around our lake, improved the drainage around our lake, and, yes, eliminated the dust and dirt, then yeah, it would be well worth the cost.
But, additional review by our City Engineer painted a less rosy picture. We learned we would also need to reconstruct the road base for Lake Road, effectively doubling the initial cost estimates.
Council chose to review other options, including chip sealing Lake Road. For those that don’t know, chip seal is basically a much thinner layer of asphalt with more aggregate rock. A good example of a chip sealed road is Indianola, next to our Augusta Municipal Airport.
Cost estimates for chip sealing the east side of Lake Road stand at $381,000. The governing body has solicited and received input from Augustans and ultimately will decide at our February 5th council meeting whether to continue with this project.
For more than a decade, we’ve discussed the very real need for a new Public Works facility. We’ve budgeted $1.5 million for its construction. The complex will centralize our operations and have controlled access to facilities and vehicle storage. Even more, it will likely free up space potentially providing Augusta with land for another industrial park, something that we thought wouldn’t be possible for at least another decade. Staff and council are working to finalize the plans for this project now.
So, what can you expect for Phase III of Pride & Progress? I think Coolio said it best. “Life is too short to not have fun; we are only here for a short time compared to the sun and the moon and all that.”
The council has preliminarily approved a new Railroad Walking Trail. The half mile trail will connect downtown, our recently restored Augusta Historic Train Depot, Walmart, and South Ohio. Ultimately, the goal is to create a network of sidewalks and trails circling our community connected to spokes joining our parks and schools.
The council has also preliminarily approved creating a park in our historic downtown Brick Street District. Like everything we do, we try to select projects that differentiate us from surrounding communities. We want something unique. And we want something that can be seen from 7th Street. I expect you’ll be impressed and proud of our new park.
The council continues exploring new ideas and projects. We have many more projects currently under consideration. Our city manager, Josh Shaw recently said, “I look at all these cool things other communities are doing and I wonder, how can we build that… for free?”
Much to the delight of Augusta Middle-Schoolers and Augusta High-Schoolers, the council has provided initial support for a new skate park with a preliminary budget of $75,000.
Earlier I mentioned sidewalks with the goal of creating a network circling our community connected to spokes joining our parks and schools. Immediately under consideration are 5’ sidewalk extensions on 12th Street covering approximately 2,100 linear feet from Ohio to Custer and 2,800 linear feet of sidewalk from Ewalt Elementary along Belmont all the way to Shryock Park. We are also looking at ways to fund a sidewalk along Lulu/Money potentially utilizing CDBG grants.
Phase III projects may start as early as later this year, but more likely will complete in 2019.
Speaking of CDBG grant projects, I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly discuss one more project - far less exciting, but I think you’d agree, extremely important. Shortly, we will begin a $1.56 million sanitary sewer line upgrade and replacement covering Basin A. Basin A predominantly comprises the western portion of our community, extending south of 7th Street all the way north to our city lake.
Before I conclude, I’d like to recognize a couple friends. First, Rod Stevenson. Rod is the owner of our Kansas Cannons baseball team. The Cannons are starting their third season with us. You should definitely take your family and friends to a game, or two, or three this summer. They play at Rodney Wheeler Stadium behind the high school and admission is free! And while we’re talking about the Cannons, every year Rod looks for families that would be gracious in housing our players. If you’re interested, or have questions, get with Rod tonight. He really is a kind and friendly dude.
Second, Lisa Daniels. I’m confident you all know Lisa. This is a special year for Lisa and for our community. Lisa is celebrating her 20th year at our Augusta Public Library. Lisa and her team do an amazing job educating and entertaining all Augustans, but specifically our children. Lisa, congratulations and thank you so much for everything you do!
I’d like to close by thanking you all. Thank you for everything YOU do in making Augusta a community of choice. I’ll leave with this final thought from William James, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”