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Construction work shuts down square in Martinsburg, W.Va.

July 28, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • The Martinsburg, W.Va., square at the intersection of King and Queen streets was closed Thursday as overhaul work continued. Detour signs are posted near the site. The square will be closed until Aug. 22, city and state highway officials said.
By Matthew Umstead, Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Martinsburg Mayor George Karos said Thursday that he wanted to especially thank downtown businesses and churches for their cooperation with the city, given the traffic detour in effect at town square for the pedestrian safety project.

The construction prompted the closure of the Queen and King street intersection on Thursday, and detours around the square are expected to continue for about three weeks.

Karos said in a special Martinsburg City Council meeting that the closure of the busy intersection was a better option than reducing traffic to one lane at the square for six to eight weeks.

The around-the-clock detour was put into effect with the goal of reopening the intersection prior to the annual Bike Night motorcycle rally on Aug. 20 and the first day of Berkeley County Schools two days later.

"We had to do what we had to do ..." Karos said.

Rush-hour traffic at Raleigh and King streets, one of the detour intersections, appeared especially heavy about 5 p.m. Thursday, but City Manager Mark Baldwin said after Thursday's meeting that he hopes motorists who drive through the city regularly will take alternate routes to ease conditions in the days to come.

While the entire square project is not projected to be done until the end of October, Baldwin indicated weather conditions have not caused any delays thus far.

In related business, the city council on Thursday voted unanimously to increase its financial allocation for the town square improvements to $322,720 as part of an agreement with state transportation officials. The city previously agreed to pay 20 percent of the project's cost, and state and federal grant money is being used to pay the remainder of the $1.6 million project.

The city council also voted unanimously to approve the process for obtaining a bronze statue of city founder Adam Stephen to be placed in the new town square.

The council did not approve actual funding for the sculpture, but Karos said he believes funding is available in city coffers for the artwork. Project architect Matthew Grove told council members the artwork could cost $50,000 to $60,000.

Council member Gregg Wachtel said he felt the cost estimate was "a little expensive" for a statue.

Council member Betty Gunnoe said she was unwilling to vote on committing $50,000 toward the statue at the present time, but she and Wachtel voted with other council members on a motion to allocate up to $6,000 to compensate the three finalists for the project.

Each of the finalists would be compensated for labor and materials used to produce a reduced-scale model of the sculpture for the city's consideration, Grove said.

"They're probably going to put 100 hours into doing a miniature," Grove said.  

The pedestal for the statute is part of the square project now under way, but the artwork itself could not be funded as part of the work because of stipulations attached to the grant money, Baldwin has said.

Council on Thursday also approved wording for plaques to be placed at town square, including one about Stephen.

Aside from overseeing the town's incorporation in 1778, Stephen was a founding father of Berkeley County, serving as its first sheriff. He was a ranking officer under George Washington in the French and Indian War and became a major general under Washington in the Revolutionary War.

Thursday's meeting also marked the return of Ward II councilman Richard Yauger after an extended absence due to health concerns. Yauger, 79, had not attended a council meeting this year after undergoing amputation surgery to his left leg. He walked with the aid of a crutch at Thursday's meeting.

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