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Construction set to begin on Salem’s Lafayette Street project

Posted by Justin Rice  August 31, 2011 11:15 AM

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After more than five years of planning, the $1.1 million Lafayette Street redevelopment project is ready to begin construction.

Improving Lafayette Street — also known as Route 1A — from the Harbor Street intersection to the Dow Street intersection, is part of a larger vision to redevelop the former St. Joseph Church into an affordable housing development and spruce up and extend Lafayette Park. 

The project, which is being funded by a $1 million grant from the state Department of Transportation and matching funds from a Community Development Block Grant, includes installing historic period pedestrian lights and traffic signals in an ornamental style at both intersections.

New crosswalks and other safety improvements will also be made at what is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for both pedestrians and vehicles.

“So it’s to increase pedestrian and vehicle safety but it also includes streetscape improvements,” Salem’s Director of Planning Lynn Duncan said during a telephone interview yesterday. “Currently people that live on Dow Street come down Lafayette Street or Washington Street and cannot make a turn on Dow Street. So people have to go all the way around. The intersection will be signalized so people will go down Lafayette Street and left on Dow but still not from Washington because of the heavy traffic flow.”

Duncan said construction will begin this week or right after Labor Day and be completed by the end of May.

“We’re going to try to keep people updated on the status of construction through the city website,” Duncan said.

The intersections were identified for improvement after a 2005 transit study of the downtown roadways.

“When the St. Joseph Church site was proposed for redevelopment it really underscored the need for this,” Duncan said.

The project was put out to bid on Aug. 10 and recently awarded to P.V. Barone of Winthrop.  After the state DOT grant came through in 2009 the project underwent a public meeting process and several conceptual designs, Duncan said.

She also said the project was held up by the now settled legal wrangling of the St. Joseph project, which is currently undergoing a historic preservation review. After a four-year legal challenge, the state Supreme Judicial Court refused to hear an appeal by neighbors and landlords last summer.

The church that has been vacant since 2004 will be demolished along with its former convent. The church is being developed by the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, a branch of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The former school and rectory on the roughly 3-acre church property between Harbor and Dow will be renovated into a mixed-used development. The project will include 51 affordable apartments, a small commercial space and a small neighborhood community space.

A public meeting about the demolition of the church is planned for 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at 120 Washington St.

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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