Contractors have approved a reduced scope for the Shepard School Road sidewalk project that has been at the center of a funding snafu for the past two years.
By altering the plans, removing the southern half of the proposed sidewalk connecting Zebulon Middle School to the Zebulon Boys & Girls Club, the project is expected to be within the town’s financial reach.
Town Manager Rick Hardin says the construction, including improvements to the bridge over U.S. 64/264 and a sidewalk from the bridge to the existing sidewalk in front of the Boys & Girls Club, could reach fruition as early as January.
“The contractors agreed to eliminate that (southern) section of the sidewalk work,” Hardin said. “By eliminating that, the (construction cost) is below the authorized number the (town) board approved. Now we go forward getting the DOT authorization and moving ahead.”
Public Works Director Chris Ray said NCDOT is already on board with the changes.
“It’s basically just a bid modification following DOT procedures,” Ray said. “Now we’re just dotting our Is and crossing our Ts.”
Ray said the town isn’t ditching the southern portion of the connector; it’s merely delaying it until funding becomes available. He said the second phase would be introduced as an upcoming capital project and that town staff would pursue grant funding for that work like it has for much of the overall project.
The town was forced to search for a Plan B after the lowest of two August construction bids to complete the entire 1,810-foot stretch came in about $71,000 over its budget of $321,896. The new plan reduced the length of the project to 1,000 linear feet.
The new projected cost of $324,610 retains bridge improvements, including a guardrail and fencing and the northern span of the sidewalk, including curb and gutter and storm drainage. The town will cover the remaining $3,000 shortfall.
Town leaders rationalized their eventual decision in August while discussing the option of omitting one of the two sections from the first wave of construction.
While there is currently no sidewalk between the middle school and the Boys & Girls Club, the trail students have blazed between the two points is wider and further off the roadway on the south side.
“We felt like the northern portion was a little narrower, so it made better sense to put a sidewalk up there first,” Ray said. “On the southern end, residents and school kids can (walk) further away from the road.”
Rays comments echoed those made by Mayor Bob Matheny at an August town board meeting.
“My personal opinion is the north side is more important than the south,” Matheny said. “ ... Let’s face it, this project is really for the Boys & Girls Club.”