Newton reconstruction project passes with unanimous City Council vote

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Deteriorating conditions on Newton Avenue between Pearl Street and Fourth Street will be addressed after the City Council voted to approve repairs and replacements Monday night.

The project would include complete reconstruction from Pearl Street to Second Street, then concrete rehabilitation from Second Street to Fourth Street, said Albert Lea City Engineer Steven Jahnke. However, Jahnke said the portion of the reconstruction north of the railroad tracks between Pearl Street and Second Street may be postponed.

The project, with an estimated cost of over $1.45 million, would be paid for by assessments, Municipal State Aid funds and water and sewer funds. Construction is estimated to start in June with a fall completion. Assessments are proposed to cover about 20 percent of the project costs.

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Work on the project from Pearl Street to Second Street would include complete removal and replacement of the pavement, curb, gutter, sidewalk, storm sewer and water main. Jahnke said the sanitary sewers are still in fairly good shape, and the city is looking at a treatment to rehabilitate existing pipelines. He said this choice has the potential to move the construction project along faster.

Additionally, the road would be narrowed 4 feet — from 44 feet down to 40 feet — from the railroad tracks south to Second Street to create more room for snow and water to infiltrate.

“We just think it’s a better solution for the area,” Jahnke said.

The project also included proposed sidewalks on both sides of the roadway for pedestrians.

Work from Second Street to Fourth Street would include pavement rehabilitation and sidewalk replacement. The city would replace damaged or cracked panels and replace sidewalk sections.

“That area is in better shape, and our intent of this project is to extend the life of that and make it last a lot longer for a lot cheaper cost,” Jahnke said.

Jahnke said the city also took a look at possible stormwater solutions. This is one of the reasons the city is not looking at doing the portion of Newton Avenue north of the tracks up to Pearl Street; by potentially narrowing the street from 60 to 40 feet and with work on what is now the site of the new fire station, Jahnke said he believes they may have an area where the city could put in a stormwater pond. There could also be a location for a potential stormwater pond or rain garden near the former Shell Station.

The project’s assessments would affect 34 properties. The average assessment for a residential property is $9,229, while for a commercial property the average assessment is $23,373. The assessments would be paid over 10 years with an interest rate based on 2019 bonding.

Trailside Apartments management team member Cory Wood used the public forum to ask whether the complex would have restricted entrances and exits during the construction. According to Jahnke, the contract will make sure residents are able to get in and out for the project duration.

All City Council members voted in favor of the Newton Avenue reconstruction and rehabilitation project. Jahnke said the city will be advertising bids in mid-April, with bids intended to open in early May.

The City Council also approved a change to its data practice policy, citing a large increase in requests — and requests of greater complexity. The policy change would, as permitted by state statute, allow the city to charge for data requests. The city will only charge for requests that take longer than 30 minutes to complete, and the fee would be hourly, calculated based on the lowest salary of a city employee qualified to complete the task.

According to City Manager Chad Adams, that hourly fee would not cost much more than $30 to $35 per hour.

“Quite honestly, what we’re starting to see is out-of-town entities making massive data requests,” Adams said during the City Council work session.

Assistant City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos said one such recent request took city staff four hours to complete.

“That’s four hours of time that we could spend doing other things rather than just completing data requests for organizations that we don’t have any business with,” Gabrielatos said during the work session.

Adams said the city has not seen those kinds of data requests from local residents, and that many local requests “don’t come near” the 30-minute mark.

“There’s a fair amount of data requests that are … a few keystrokes,” Gabrielatos said.

Both Adams and Gabrielatos noted the city’s records are free for the public to access in person.

Councilor Rich Murray said he did not want to see Albert Lea citizens charged extra for data requests, but did believe large data requests from outside groups should be paid for.

Councilor Jason Howland said he was initially concerned about the policy and whether it would stifle the press or public citizens.

“But, really, I think the intent of this is to get some compensation back from some of the really outrageous data requests that we get from some of the organizations or businesses that are, in general, from outside of the city, so I really don’t have a problem with this,” Howland said.

In other action:

• With City Council approval, the city’s department structures were modified to reflect its current operating structure. Adams said there are no staffing changes associated, as the change reflects how the city departments are already structured.

• Bids were ordered for the Clausen Avenue, High Street, Sheridan Street, Giles Place and alley reconstruction project approved in February. The bid opening is scheduled for April 16.

• The City Council approved the $106,009 purchase of a new Zamboni ice resurfacer for Albert Lea City Arena. The current Zamboni, a 1999 Olympia, would be sold.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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