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Town is slow moving on alley cleanup

In a downtown Canton alleyway, a rusty junction box juts out awkwardly from the sidewalk, long since abandoned to its purpose, while a few yards away broken bricks, orange traffic barrels and twisted lengths of caution tape lay in a heap atop a few pieces of old plywood. On the side of one building, a bright blue tarp hangs crookedly, covering pieces of exposed structure, with bricks on strings dangling precariously from its edges.

But this is not a construction site. This is what town officials call Colonial Alley, and its been sitting like this for a year now.

Greg Petty, owner of The Lunchbox, shares a wall with the alley, and he’s tired of patrons wondering what, exactly, he’s up to under that tarp or suspecting him of being closed. He has been asking the town for months now to deal with the disrepair and clutter in the alley.

“We’ve taken every step in the world to try to get it fixed,” he said, including attending town meetings and making specific requests of aldermen and Mayor Pat Smathers, but apparently to no avail.

“We were told that it would be done and it hasn’t been,” said Petty, who notes that he was told in July that work would begin within weeks.

The trouble began in November 2009 when Petty and Wilbur Davis, owner of the other building adjacent to the alley, noticed leakages on the walls they shared with it. The culprit was an outside wall, erected when a former storefront was leveled to make way for the alley itself. Those outside walls had, over time, begun to crack and separate from the walls of the remaining building, allowing moisture to creep in.

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So the city took steps to repair the problem, and began pulling down the outside walls. However, laborers realized halfway in that the problems were deeper and outside their scope of expertise. Instead of being a quick fix, an engineer needed to be summoned, the project bid out and a licensed and experienced contractor would have to take over the job.

And it’s all these extra steps, said Assistant Town Manager Jason Burrell, that have taken much more time than expected.

“This is one of those things that, when you’re a government entity, you have to jump through some hoops,” said Burrell. Where a private citizen or business could see the problem and have it repaired nearly immediately, a government has to take steps to ensure that they’re getting the best deal possible for the taxpayer, he explains.

Burrell said that, after getting a structural engineer’s opinion on what the project actually needed, the town put the project out to bid twice but has had trouble generating interest among contractors who have the right mix of willingness and expertise.

When the town finally received a bid for an acceptable amount from an acceptable contractor, Burrell said that he and Town Manager Al Matthews took it to the aldermen immediately. That bid was approved four weeks ago.

But, said Burrell, when they went to execute the contract and get work going, they again ran into problems.

“We went to do that pretty much the next day, and honestly, we haven’t been able to get up with the contractor,” said Burrell. They called him, sent him a letter, even sent someone to his house, but all to no avail. In essence, that puts the town back at square one.

But to Petty, this doesn’t fly. While he’s concerned with the project’s completion, he said he’s been told several times that a clean-up effort would be taken up immediately. He is still waiting for action.

Matthews agreed that the alley’s appearance was less than ideal.

“It looks bad,” he said. “There’s no doubt it looks like a construction site. But we’re going to get some casual labor, we hope, to pull off the old stucco and start at the top and get the top caps back on, back in place,” which would eliminate the need for the unsightly blue tarp and its fringe of swinging bricks suspended 10 feet off the ground.

Petty said he hopes that’s true, but if no action is taken soon, he intends to climb up himself and at least replace the blue with a clear, more attractive tarp.

“I don’t have a gripe with anyone individually,” Petty said, “but something needs to be done. It needs to be fixed, and I think anyone can see that.”

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