By Bridget Levitz
ELKHART -- Streetscape's been pushed back another three weeks. While traffic should have been driving freely down Main Street today, that won't happen until December.
Contractors this week gave the city a completion date of Dec. 2 -- the same day Elkhart's Winterfest is scheduled downtown.
Events planned for Winterfest this year include a parade down Main Street, the lighting of the city tree, an ice-sculpting contest and chili cook-off all planned for the Civic Plaza, just feet away from the torn-up asphalt.
In its third and final phase, Streetscape has Main Street torn up between Lexington Avenue and High Street, including the intersection of High.
An alternate parade route down Second Street has been chosen just in case contractors don't finish up by then, said Lance Dempsay, recreation coordinator for the city.
"We have a whole bunch planned for the Civic Plaza," he said. "If it's still closed down there I don't know where we'll relocate yet."
The city intended for the $1.9 million street renovations to last just 200 days, beginning in April and ending in late October. It's now about 80 days over the first project schedule, keeping portions of downtown closed for the better part of this year.
"Naturally, we wish Streetscape could have been completed according to the original timeline," said Community Affairs Director Wayne Kramer.
There were mitigating circumstances that contractor Brooks Construction of Goshen cannot be blamed for, Kramer said.
Rain delays and difficulties in the first two phases -- including a water main break, gas line leak and uncovering an old trolley line below the street -- all slowed progress.
The city adjusted its contract with Brooks to account for these roadblocks, naming today as the expected completion date.
Built into the contract, said Kramer, is a penalty of $1,500 a day for each day Brooks is over the deadline. Fines won't be assessed until Streetscape's finished, and each phase of the project will be reviewed, he said.
To make up for lost time, Brooks began underground work in Phase III's 200 block, from Lexington Avenue to High Street, while Phase II finished.
Phase III's countdown began when work began even though Phase II hadn't yet finished, Kramer said. By contract, Brooks had 70 days to finish.
"Theoretically they should have been done Nov. 15," Kramer said. "And that's five days past the Nov. 10 completion date we'd agreed upon."
So far, the city has granted only five rain days, though Kramer expects Brooks will ask for more. Those negotiations likely will be done when the project's complete.
Even additional rain days won't add up to the number of days Streetscape is over, Kramer said.
"I expect there will be fines," he said.
Marty Lowe of Brooks Construction couldn't be reached for comment Thursday but said in October that his crews were working "from dark to dark" to finish before construction ends with the onset of winter weather.
Seifert Drug Store's Hassen Hakim said the crews are doing their best.
"They're working hard. They're working Saturdays," he said. "They're doing all they can do. I know they're working extra hours."
The local drug store, 230 S. Main St., sits at the corner of High and Main streets across from the Civic Plaza, right in the construction zone.
Once complete, Streetscape will replace the water main under the street, separate sanitary and storm-water lines and install above-ground features -- including planters, brick sidewalks, decorative light poles and bench seating.
Contact Bridget Levitz at email@example.com.