Sidewalk repair is a hot topic in Lawrence these days as the city attempts to work with property owners to bring all sidewalks into compliance with city code. Equity issues such as corner lots and damage caused by tree roots from plantings in city right-of-ways are being addressed. Those who live in older neighborhoods, however, know that there are material issues the city has not yet addressed.
Brick sidewalks are an obvious one. When this initiative is finished, how many sidewalks that are currently constructed of brick will remain brick? There is another historic material out there that no one is talking about: panels of sedimentary rock known as bluestone.
Bluestone panels still are available from quarries today, but the cost is prohibitive for many. When bluestone panels fail, they crack. But unless a tree root is the culprit, the cracks generally don’t deflect. Many cracked bluestone surfaces instead remain flat, and don’t cross into the half-inch vertical deflection that city code constitutes as a trip hazard.
Dan Watkins, the longtime owner of the Wilder-Clark House at 643 Indiana Street, knew his bluestone sidewalk needed repair, but he didn’t want to tear it out and replace it with concrete. “I wanted to stay as close as I could to the original construction,” Watkins said.
Watkins hired a stonemason to bring in new panels where necessary, and in some cases to level existing unbroken panels that had sunk because of shifting soils underneath. For the rest, the mason worked to fit broken pieces together in ways that would allow bicycles, wheelchairs and baby strollers to easily traverse the sidewalk.
If city code inspectors hold bluestone panels to the same standards they do concrete, Lawrence is likely to lose this historic material from our neighborhood landscapes. If non-deflected horizontal cracks in bluestone are allowed, however, residents and visitors to our historic neighborhoods may be able to enjoy this historic material for many years to come. LPA applauds Dan Watkins for his attempt to balance a one-size-fits-all code with the preservation of a historic material that, due to material cost, is virtually irreplaceable. Hey city government: If you can easily run a wheel over it, give non-deflected bluestone panel sidewalks a break!