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Road improvements set for South Street, others
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Mary Ann Mason, grants coordinator for Henry County, stands on South Street in Bassett, which will be improved as part of the second phase of the South Street Neighborhood Improvement Project. Behind her at left is a house that was renovated, and at right is a new house that replaced an older one. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)

Friday, October 5, 2012

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Improvements on South Street and some other nearby roads will begin within 30 days, according to Mary Ann Mason, grants coordinator for Henry County.

The improvements are part of the second phase of the South Street Neighborhood Improvement Project, Mason said.

The project is a comprehensive community development project “designed to address all the housing and infrastructure needs identified in the project area” of South Street, South Street Extension and Pleasant Ridge Road, she said.

During the infrastructure portion of the project, some utility poles and cables will be moved, water and sewer lines will be replaced, storm drains will be installed and road construction projects will get underway, Mason said.

Road projects include all of South Street and portions of South Street Extension, Pleasant Ridge and Highland Road, Mason said.

Improvements also will be done along Elm Street, but that street is not included in the housing rehab piece of the project, she said.

The projects are expected to be completed within the next six months, weather permitting, at a cost of $1,099,209, Mason said.

“This is the final phase of the project. The first phase was the housing phase,” and focused on rehabbing homes that were built in the 1930s and 1940s for furniture plant employees in Bassett, Mason said.

Although “some homeowners made their own repairs through the years, the majority of those homes, if not all, are the original construction,” she said.

Road conditions and poor drainage have been problems in the project area for many years, in part due to the steep topography, she said.

That, coupled with the lack of storm drainage infrastructure, meant parts of roads washed out in heavy rains, and associated water caused significant structural damage to area homes, Mason said.

In the initial phase of the project, homes of interested property owners were inspected “to identify any safety and health hazards,” and determine whether the home could be repaired or if “substantial reconstruction” was needed, Mason said of the process of demolishing a home and rebuilding it.

Foundation and/or structural damages are primary reasons for substantial reconstruction, she added.

As of Wednesday morning, five homes that were substantially reconstructed were completed, Mason said.

Repairs that may have included electric upgrades, plumbing work, handicapped access ramps, new windows and doors, roofs, siding, insulation and other work had been completed on another nine homes, Mason said.

“Several blighted structures have already been demolished,” she said of structures that were found to be unsound and/or abandoned. The lots where they were located have been cleared.

“We have one more remaining to demolish,” Mason said.

The entire project totals more than $2 million, and meets one of the national objectives of benefiting low- to moderate-income households “by assisting, conserving and improving housing conditions,” Mason said.

Although the county has undertaken other community renovation projects in the past, Mason said this project is “more complex than most” because it involved not only housing rehabilitation but also infrastructure improvements.

Funding for the project is from a number of sources, including: $1.4 million from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD); $535,989 from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management; and $103,107 in rural addition funds that remained in the county’s Rural Addition Program, Mason said. That program ended in 2001 and was used to improve county roads so they would be included in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s road system.

Project funding also included $21,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank and $32,000 in private funding, Mason said of right-of-way donations and temporary road improvements that were donated.

The temporary improvements were needed because South Street and Pleasant Ridge Road “were in such bad condition,” she said.

“A couple of local contractors” donated their time and labor “to grade the road down and apply gravel” after then-county administrator Benny Summerlin (who died in August) discussed the issue with them, Mason said. Those temporary improvements will be added in the second project phase.

“The infrastructure improvements will permanently address poor road conditions and protect houses from further damage,” Mason said. When completed, South Street and a portion of Pleasant Ridge Road will be accepted into the state transportation system for maintenance.

As always, “we’re looking at possible areas for future CDBG grant applications,” she said.


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