As Route 3 construction begins in Penacook, village businesses are wary
Construction crews from Merrill Construction out of Pembroke put in a drainage system under the road on Route 3 and Merrimack Street in Penacook Village on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Debbie Cheney-Drouin, owner of the Hair Clip salon, had placed a new sidewalk sign on Village Street on Wednesday afternoon: “Life is good! Construction got you blue, smile with a new hair do!”
Next to that sign was another, placed in front of the spot where the path had disappeared into a gaping hole: “Sidewalk closed. Use other side.”
The two signs spell out the tension between optimism and frustration in Penacook as the city begins its fifth phase of Route 3 reconstruction, which will involve burying utility lines, repaving the road and adding a traffic circle at the intersection with Washington Street. This phase has brought bulldozers to the heart of the village, where some have expressed concern over the impact construction will have on businesses.
Like her sign, Cheney-Drouin is trying to stay positive.
“I think this is going to do wonderful things for Penacook. . . . It’s only for the summer,” she said.
At a meeting in the Penacook library Wednesday night, City Engineer Ed Roberge and others from the construction team talked about the project with business owners and members of the Penacook Village Association. Construction began at the end of April and will continue through November, and the work will extend from Stark Street to the Boscawen town line.
“We’re off and running now,” Roberge told the small crowd. “And we appreciate your patience.”
Roberge promised that business owners could expect in-person updates from the construction team as crews move north along the road.
“That’s our best communication, walking up and down,” he said.
Not everyone, however, was satisfied. Laurie Haney, who owns Long & Short of It Hairstyling on Village Street, told Roberge she is worried about obstructions to her two on-street parking spaces during construction. Without parking, she told Roberge, she is also without customers.
“I’m to the point where now I’m almost ready to close my doors because I’m really discouraged with this,” Haney said. “I think it’s going to kill my business.”
“Well, we hope you don’t do that,” Roberge said.
“And I’ve been in business for 17 years,” Haney responded.
“Well, we want to keep you here for 18,” Roberge said. “I think you’re going to like what’s here at the end of the year.”
“I hope so,” she said.
‘Be prepared to stop’
First was the flashing sign: “Expect major delays.”
Then came the orange diamond-shaped signs. “Road work ahead,” one read. Another: “Be prepared to stop.”
Though the road into Penacook was lined with warnings of the construction ahead, delays were minor Wednesday afternoon on the path into the heart of the village. In King’s Barber Shop, however, owner Andy Turgeon said the heavy equipment is diverting traffic – and potential customers – from businesses like his. The customers who do come in, he said, are complaining about the work.
“It’s pushing the customers away,” Turgeon said.
As he buzzed the back of a client’s hair with a razor, Turgeon said he wouldn’t attend that night’s public meeting with city staff.
“I’m skipping it to go to my son’s Cub Scouts,” he said. “Because (the city is) going to do what they want.”
At the nearby Village Street Garage, owner Jeff Chaplain watched utility workers toss an overhead line onto the street. City staff has said the power lines should be buried this week.
“They’re just doing their job,” Chaplain said.
That doesn’t mean he’s thrilled to be sharing the neighborhood with flaggers and bulldozers.
“We’re looking forward for this project to be finished,” Chaplain said.
At Fox Ace Hardware, employee Darlene Junkins sat in a lawn chair outside and waited for customers to wander in across the patchwork sidewalk. When the construction crews needed to dig up the ground in front of the store’s entrance, she said the workers put up a sign to the side door.
“We need a face-lift. . . . No sense in getting upset about it,” she said.
Across the street, Cheney-Drouin waited for her next cut-and-color. She mentioned an older woman who had called the shop earlier, saying she was having trouble finding a place to park amid the construction equipment before her appointment.
“I feel worse for people who rely on walk-ups,” she said, pointing out her window. “Sometimes if there’s a mound of dirt (like that one), then people aren’t willing to walk.”
Ellen Langlais, who owns the Penacook Pharmacy and the Exchange Block in the center of the village, watched with a guarded expression as Roberge spoke Wednesday night. She asked questions about the parking near her building. She listened as Roberge gave out cell phone numbers for the project managers, and when he mentioned the city’s plan to circulate a map with regular updates on where and when the construction will take place.
“I’m glad to see the city is working with the business owners to make sure our needs are met,” Langlais said.
Losing a ‘community place’
Roberge outlined some of the new features coming soon to Penacook, including street lamps on the bridge and a larger area of grass around the Boudreau Square monument.
Missing from the village, however, will be the gazebo at Poulin Park. Roberge said the park will be slightly relocated to make way for a traffic circle at the intersection of Village and Washington streets, and the gazebo would most likely collapse during the move.
So it will be scheduled for demolition instead.
Rebecca Stephens, owner of pranaSTRONG Yoga & Wellness above Penacook Pharmacy, said she has seen people sitting in the gazebo every night during recent warm weather.
“It’s definitely a community place,” she said.
The new park will still have room for a similar structure to be built in the future, Roberge said. The gazebo was built in the 1990s with private donations.
“I’m the bearer of bad news about the gazebo, unfortunately. . . . Perhaps this is an opportunity for the community to come together like they did before and work to replace it,” Roberge said.
A parallel to Main Street
This construction foreshadows work that could roll out elsewhere in Concord this year – the Main Street project. The project would redesign and rebuild 12 blocks of downtown Concord, and city officials are negotiating with a contractor to determine its scope and price. Before crews break ground, the Concord City Council would need to give its official blessing to the long-awaited project.
There are major differences between the two, including time; most of the work in Penacook should be completed by this fall, while Main Street will be under construction for at least two summers. But many of the concerns Penacook business owners have voiced over parking and disruption to their daily operations are familiar to business owners in downtown Concord. In an interview this week, Roberge said the two projects present “the same issues.”
“As we prepare ourselves for a potential Main Street project, all the lessons that we’re learning on Penacook, that kind of plays into a strong knowledge base to get ourselves ready to manage that major project.”
Both projects also rest on big promises to area businesses and residents – another similarity.
“The infrastructure is old and tired,” Roberge said of Penacook Village. “They’ve been very patient. . . . Now I hope to reward their patience with a brand new project.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)