In a little less than two months, city officials plan to reopen what they hope becomes a major gathering place in downtown Seymour.
But that all depends on when the COVID-19 pandemic loosens its grip on the community and if people once again will be allowed to gather in larger groups by then.
The $1 million St. Louis Avenue streetscape project is around 65% complete, according to a weekly report from HWC Engineering.
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Most of the work should be substantially done by May 1, but contractor Schutte Excavating of Greensburg has until June 1 to finish up smaller punch list items. A groundbreaking ceremony was conducted in December 2019. Shortly thereafter, demolition began.
Becky Schepman, executive director of Seymour Main Street, said the project was moving along nicely until the pandemic.
“The weather cooperated, and the ground was rarely frozen with our mild winter, so we were ahead of schedule,” she said.
Due to stricter travel restrictions now in place in Decatur County, Schutte has not been working in Seymour much since last week. But progress still can be seen behind the fenced-in worksite along East St. Louis Avenue.
The company is not anticipating any delays in completing the project if vendors are able to deliver needed items, including tile for pavers and the swings that will be installed as a unique option for seating. New benches also are being added, but due to a manufacturer’s mistake, the foundations that were already poured have to be removed and lowered nearly 3 inches.
Schutte expects work to pick back up at the end of this month.
Possibly the most noticeable improvement is the 17 new trees and perennials that have been planted by subcontractor Earth Images along the stretch of St. Louis Avenue from Jeffersonville Avenue to Chestnut Street. Five more trees will be planted along Jeffersonville Avenue later this month.
Besides making the area more aesthetically pleasing, the trees, when in bloom, will provide shade to people enjoying the park.
New sidewalks and an underground irrigation system for automatic watering of the landscaped area also were added. Other features still to be installed include signage and musical chimes and drums.
St. Louis Avenue also is slated for full pavement road reconstruction and an electrical upgrade has been done to provide improved access to hookups for food trucks and other vendors for festivals and events along with electric car charging stations.
Schepman said she thinks the project is coming along great.
“It is so exciting to see it taking shape,” she said. “I can really envision the final product at this point in the space.”
Her favorite features are going to be the outdoor seating and playscape for kids, she said.
“We have heard continuously from the community that they would like more outdoor seating,” she said. “I can really envision families going to the farmers market on Saturday, grabbing ice cream at Lot Hill Dairy Farm and then going to the new park to eat it and letting their kids play on the playscape.”
The bulk of the project focuses on updating and renovating the former One Chamber Square. One of the most important elements of the project was to make the area accessible.
The old design had picnic tables set up in a pit area with concrete steps on the west and north sides but no ramp, making it difficult to navigate for wheelchairs and strollers.
There is no longer a pit, and the park will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A curbless street design, similar to Fourth Street in Columbus, has been incorporated.
After the project is finished, the area will carry the new name of Burkhart Plaza as a memorial to the late John Burkhart, who served as Seymour’s mayor from 1990 to 2003. He passed away at the age of 80 on Dec. 13, 2019.
The area is still owned and maintained by the city. One Chamber Square was originally completed in the fall of 1987 as part of an overall $1 million project that included sidewalk and curb repair and new trees in the downtown.
Funding for the project is coming from several different sources, making it a true community collaboration.
Seymour Main Street is contributing $5,000 to the project. The rest is being paid for through a $590,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Another $430,000 is coming from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Jackson County and an additional $5,000 from the city’s economic development income tax fund.
Schepman said the project helps Seymour Main Street and the city achieve a longtime goal.
“This space does what we have been working on for years now downtown,” she said. “It makes us a destination with multiple things for people to do and spend their time.”