Retracting bollards, new irrigation and tree work ties up Eighth Street

New irrigation systems and tree grates are being installed on Eighth Street in downtown Boise. Photo by Teya Vitu.
New irrigation systems and tree grates are being installed on Eighth Street in downtown Boise. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Eighth Street is getting a spring makeover before the Capital City Development Corp. hands over ownership of its two-block stretch of the downtown event street to the city of Boise.

CCDC is focusing on the furnishings area between the sidewalks and street, where it is replacing some trees and installing new irrigation and tree grate systems. The $617,884 project will also replace the 30-year-old lamp posts with new historic-themed lamp posts, said Doug Woodruff, CCDC project manager for capital improvements.

Another new feature will be hydraulic bollards at the end of each block to replace temporary bollards that have been used to block traffic. The new bollards will retract into the ground and can be raised to block traffic during, for example, the Capital City Public Market.

The last of the Norway maple grove trees that have been in place for 30 years will be removed on the Main-to- Bannock stretch of Eighth Street. About three-fourths of the trees now are honey locusts, which have been installed over the past five years.

Woodruff said the Norway maples were not suitable for downtown, and the city Community Forestry division has lobbied to replace them for years.

CCDC gained ownership of Eighth Street between Main and Bannock Streets in 1987 as an early implementation of the Boise Downtown Urban Design Plan, the 1986 template for the modern downtown Boise.

CCDC’s Central District urban renewal zone, which includes Eight Street, expires in September.

Eighth Street work started Feb. 26 and completion is expected June 15. Guho Corp. is the general contractor.

Twin Falls rebuilds its downtown Main Avenue

Trees have buckled the sidewalks on downtown Twin Falls' Main Avenue. Photo courtesy of city of Twin Falls.
Trees have buckled the sidewalks on downtown Twin Falls’ Main Avenue. Photo courtesy of city of Twin Falls.

Twin Falls removed all the 40-year-old trees from the five-block downtown stretch of Main Avenue during President’s Day weekend as part of plans to rebuild the street and sidewalks.

The new Main Avenue will have new trees, brick accents in the sidewalk, and two designated festival street areas.

The street redevelopment comes as the city transforms the former Banner Furniture store into a new City Hall and builds a Downtown Commons plaza space in front, where the Rogerson Hotel building stood from 1908 until it was torn down in October 2016.

“This is an important part of placemaking,” Twin Falls City Manager Travis Rothweiler said. “Placemaking has become an important tool in economic development. This investment will all us to create opportunities for professional services and expanded retail. We hopefully will have created an environment where people are interested in reinvesting in their properties.”

Twin Falls is turning an old furniture store and a former hotel site into a new City Hall and Downtown Commons. Image courtesy of city of Twin Falls.
Twin Falls is turning an old furniture store and a former hotel site into a new City Hall and Downtown Commons. Image courtesy of city of Twin Falls.

The existing streetscape – streets, sidewalks, and trees – dates from the early 1970s.

“The trees are buckling the sidewalk. The street furniture is outdated,” said Nathan Murray, director of the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency and the city’s economic development director.

The new Main Avenue is intended as a signature community gathering festival street that is designed for large gatherings.

“This is the urban piece we needed for a while,” Murray said.

A half-block stretch will serve as an extension of Downtown Commons, where the street will alter from asphalt to the same decorative concrete as the 16,000-square-foot plaza. The decorative concrete also will cover Hansen Street, which sits between the future City Hall and Downtown Commons.

Construction is underway for the new City Hall and Downtown Commons in Twin Falls. Photo courtesy of city of Twin Falls.
Construction is underway for the new City Hall and Downtown Commons in Twin Falls. Photo courtesy of city of Twin Falls.

A second half-block stretch of festival street will be installed between Shoshone and Gooding streets, a traditional street concert location. The curbs will be flattened at the festival street locations.

“We get more and more requests for events downtown,” Murray said. “We wanted to create a sense of place.”

The sidewalks will be rebuilt, varying from 8 to 10 feet wide, with 4 feet of brick between curb and sidewalk and brick dominating at the street corners, he said.

Pine and maple trees have been removed and will be replaced with a different sort of maple and tulip trees in midblock sections and plum and pear trees at the street corners.

“There was no rhyme or reason to tree spacing,” Murray said. “One block has 60-plus trees, another block has 12.”

The 1970s trees also blocked store frontages and street signage at times. The city removed 163 and will plant between 140 and 150 trees that are evenly spaced and better located for shops and signs, Murray said.

The Main Avenue redevelopment emerged two years ago from a plan to replace the utilities beneath the alley north of Main. The $5 million utility project started in November.

The alley utility work dovetails with the $9.5 million new City Hall project, where construction started in December. The city is also converting the old city call into a new police station. Completion of both is expected in fall.

The Main Avenue and Downtown Commons work is budgeted at $6.5 million with completion also expected in Fall.

The new Main Avenue was designed by Otak Inc. Guho Corp. is the general contractor.

Construction managers: Schools need to invest in trades

More than four out of every five construction firms say they are having trouble finding craft workers. File photo.
More than four out of every five construction firms say they are having trouble finding craft workers. File photo.

Most construction firms in the West and in the U.S. have trouble finding workers, according to national and regional survey results from the Associated General Contractors of America.

After millions of jobs were shed in the recession, laid-off workers retired or sought work in other fields. They didn’t return to construction, and now a shortage of workers is one of the chief complaints of leaders in the trades.

The AGC and its members said more emphasis, and tax dollars, should be put into school programs to train construction workers.

The AGC survey found that 83 percent of companies have a hard time filling craft worker positions — on-site construction jobs including carpenters, equipment operators and laborers — and  61 percent are having a hard time filling professional positions, such as project supervisors, estimators and engineers.

The AGC said it didn’t receive enough survey responses from Idaho companies to provide specific data for Idaho. But Idaho construction managers have long said they can’t find the people they need.

“Sometimes we’ll have qualified people responding. Other times, we’ll have no response or from a multitude of people that aren’t well-trained or don’t have experience in our field,” said Mark Guho, president of Guho Corp. in Eagle.

Guho said that his company did improve its benefits package last year as part of a plan to attract workers. The problem started when the economic recovery began.

“When things were slow, we had 50 people at our doorstep, and now it’s spotty. Sometimes you’ll have a half a dozen or a dozen people, sometimes you’ll have one or two or none,” he said.

The worker shortage is causing an increase in labor prices, said Joe Jackson, vice president of operations at Engineered Structures Inc. in Meridian.

“Eventually that will trickle down to project costs,” he said. Jackson said that the recession put a halt to people entering construction.

“It was not an inviting one for people coming out of school or looking for a job. There just weren’t jobs,” he said.

Guho said he hopes more public schools prepare students for a trade career.

“Getting a degree isn’t necessarily for everybody and I think the construction industry offers a good career for the right person,” Guho said. He said the average age of the workers for many trades, particularly for masons, has climbed in recent years.

The AGC said construction companies in the West reported having trouble finding some specific craft professions, including plumbers, carpenters, roofers, painters, drywall installers, and bricklayers. Western companies were also less likely than companies nationwide to increase pay, bonuses or benefits for craft workers. They also were more likely to say that it will continue to be hard to find and hire qualified construction workers.

“Many firms are changing the way they operate to address these workforce shortages,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist with the AGC of America. That includes using subcontractors, staffing companies or labor-saving equipment or tools. The worker shortage is more severe in the south and Midwest than the West. Companies in the Northeast reported having less difficulty finding construction workers.

Other northwest construction firms say the recession led many experienced workers to retire. Steve Malany, president of P&C Construction in Portland, said his firm went from 70 employees down to 20, though it’s now back up to 50 employees. He said the company wanted to hire back some of the workers it laid off. But some of the most highly skilled craftsmen had retired.

“That brain drain, as it’s occurring throughout the nation with baby boomers, is certainly affecting the construction industry, too,” he said.

Oregon’s government in recent years has added millions in money for grant programs for construction and other career and technical education programs. Mike Salsgiver, executive director of the AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter, said the grants are reversing multiple decades in spending cuts on vocational education, which he believes led to increased high school dropout rates.

“It’s our view that restoring vocational educational opportunities for students will help to reduce the number of dropouts and create new avenues to build the construction workforce of the future,” Salsgiver said.

Jackson said Idaho should consider construction training programs. He also said it’s time to work on improving the image of the construction industry, because there are jobs available.

“We’ve got to work towards trying to influence younger people to enter the trades,” Jackson said.