Ithaca, N.Y. — The completion date for the Ithaca Commons redesign has been pushed into next year, partly due to last month’s fatal crash at Simeon’s restaurant, according to project manager Michael Kuo.
The renovation was originally scheduled to be completed on July 31, which is tomorrow.
That date had been scrapped for a November completion date. But officials no longer expect to meet that deadline, either, and now say they expect the project to be done by spring 2015.
Part of the reason for the delay, officials say, is the June 20 accident, which severely damaged Simeon’s and claimed the life of 27-year-old bartender Amanda Bush.
That accident prevented the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) from replacing its gas pipes near Simeon’s, a setback that has made it more difficult for crews to complete a project already delayed because of separate issues, according to Kuo.
“I know it is an extremely difficult time for our small businesses,” Kuo said. “We are taking care of everything that is within our control so that we can to get this done as fast as possible and get out of their lives.”
While construction may continue into the winter, city officials hope all but the “bells and whistles” will be done by Nov. 21, said Gary Ferguson of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
“We want 90 percent of the project completed by that time,” he said.
Ferguson said expected difficulties — including a particularly difficult Phase Two — were among the reasons crews would not be able to complete the project by the original completion date. The project is expected to cost about $15 million.
“This is sort of like a giant Tetris puzzle,” Ferguson said. “You can’t put ‘B’ in before you put ‘A’ in.”
At the time of the incident, NYSEG had been struggling to locate a straight path underground near Simeon’s for a set of new high-density plastic gas pipes designed to replace the location’s aging steel pipes, a task complicated by underground “utility infrastructure crisscrossing,” Kuo said.
The incident has prevented NYSEG from completing the installation of those new pipes. Conditions near Simeon’s were only recently certified as safe, after the city removed a portion of the damaged structure and contained loose debris. Kuo’s crews regained access to the area in front of Simeon’s last Wednesday.
A second NYSEG crew arrived on Thursday to help expedite the pipe replacement process at other locations along East State Street, where all aging gas pipes must be replaced, Kuo said. On Saturday, the second crew finished working on the pipes at the site adjacent to Simeon’s.
“Once NYSEG finishes their work on State Street, we will move as quickly as possible to complete the project,” Kuo said. “Until that happens, we can’t project how much of the surface we will be able to complete before winter.”
Kuo, however, also mentioned that other issues with the project had created delays even before the Simeon’s accident.
“There are certain elements that we’re not going to be able to finish in the construction season in 2014, and that was regardless of the Simeon’s accident,” he said.
One source of the additional delays involves the new Bernie Milton Pavilion, whose steel structure must be manufactured and measured before its custom glass panels are installed.
“In order to develop that glass properly, you have to measure the steel in the field just in case there are some minor discrepancies or variations,” Kuo said. “If you have the glass fabricated simultaneously with the steel, it may show up and not fit.”
While the steel frame will likely be in place by the fall, the manufacturing of the glass will require additional weeks, pushing the pavilion’s completion date to the winter, Kuo said.
A second cause of delay involves the trees that will be planted along East State and North Tioga Streets as part of the new design.
“For the health of the trees, it’s best not to try to plant them after the leaves drop in the fall, not knowing what kind of winter we’re going to have,” said Kuo. “It just makes them vulnerable to damage.” The trees will be planted next spring.
In the upcoming weeks, Kuo hopes to finish installing new electrical equipment at the site. Many of the new light pole bases have already been installed and interfaced with their power outlets.
The team is currently working on North Tioga Street, where it plans to begin building the foundation of the new Bernie Milton Pavilion and, in about one month, laying the new pavement along that road. Once NYSEG finishes installing its gas lines along East State Street, the same paving process will begin there, according to Kuo.
“The end product is coming soon and will be a major boost for the downtown economy. In the long run, that is what the legacy of this project will be,” Kuo said.
Jeff Stein contributed reporting to this story.