2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

A Side Streets pat on the rump to public servants doing the right thing

Published: April 2, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, congratulates quarterback Tony Romo. Courtesy photo.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, congratulates quarterback Tony Romo. Courtesy photo.

Who doesn’t like an attaboy now and then?

I sure do and I like giving them out. So here we go.

I’ve got a high five for Mike Chaves, a senior civil engineer for the city of Colorado Springs.

And I’ve got celebratory pats on the rump for the Manitou Springs School District and Mayor Marc Snyder.

Thanks to Chaves, 86-year-old Springs resident Duncan MacDonald no longer feels trapped in his home by the heaving and crumbling sidewalk near Fillmore Street and Templeton Gap Road.

The sidewalk in front of the Prospect Place home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett in Manitou Springs was a jagged, heaving mess due to decades of tree roots pushing it up. Here's how it looked in November 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

The sidewalk in front of the Prospect Place home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett in Manitou Springs was a jagged, heaving mess due to decades of tree roots pushing it up. Here’s how it looked in November 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

And the willingness of Snyder and the school officials to compromise and place common sense over city codes resulted in a much safer sidewalk leading from the playground of the Manitou Springs Elementary School where many children are dropped off and picked up by their parents.

Loyal Side Streets readers — all three of you — may remember stories I wrote about the dangerous stretches of sidewalk in late 2013.

A 75-year-old Chinese elm caused the public sidewalk on Prospect Place in Manitou Springs to heave, making it dangerous for pedestrians, especially school children who routinely use it when dropped off by their parents. Adjacent homeowners Mary Tatus and Tamara Bartlett want the city and school district to help pay to replace the heavily used sidewalk, which was ruined by tree roots. Courtesy photo.

A 75-year-old Chinese elm caused the public sidewalk on Prospect Place in Manitou Springs to heave, making it dangerous for pedestrians, especially school children who routinely use it when dropped off by their parents. Homeowners Mary Tatus and Tamara Bartlett convinced the city and school district to help pay to replace the heavily used sidewalk. Courtesy photo.

In November, I told of the ridiculous strip of jagged, twisting concrete that lurched from the  playground past the home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett on Prospect Place.

They were concerned for the children who run back and forth, twice a day, along the concrete, which had been dangerously contorted by the roots of trees planted along the street decades ago. Their concerns were heightened with the same piece of pavement became a focal point of emergency responders during last fall’s flash flood episodes.

Tatum and Bartlett, who bought the home in 2001, had spent $1,000 to have the tree removed. But they couldn’t afford the estimated $4,500 cost of replacing the sidewalk. So they asked the school district and city of Manitou to split the cost.

“They just weren’t interested,” Tatum said, noting the city cited an ordinance that requires homeowners to be responsible for the public sidewalks in front of their homes.

Preschooler Autum Ward, 5, runs toward Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Preschooler Autum Ward, 5, runs toward Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Snyder cited the ordinance when I called him to ask about the sidewalk.

“Our municipal code is really clear,” Snyder said at the time.

He was reluctant to consider sharing the costs even when I suggested Manitou could mimic Colorado Springs, which has taken responsibility for public sidewalks.

Since 2004, Colorado Springs has spent about $5 million a year replacing miles of sidewalks, curbs and gutters, using maintenance money from its share of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s one-cent sales tax, called the PPRTA. In addition, it has installed thousands of handicap ramps and fixed hundreds of trip hazards on city sidewalks.

In the end, Snyder said he was open to a possible private-public partnership between the couple, the town and the school district to fix the sidewalk.

“We’re willing to discuss things,” Snyder said. “We’d consider it.”

He did more than consider it. And by the time spring break rolled around last week, crews were ready to yank out the old sidewalk, grind down the tree stump and roots and pour a new red sidewalk, as mandated by codes governing the local historic district.

From left, sisters Katelyn, Madeline and Marisa Fonkert walk home from Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

From left, sisters Katelyn, Madeline and Marisa Fonkert walk home from Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

“It’s pretty great,” said Tatum, who posted photos on Facebook all week as work progressed.

“It’s a beautiful red sidewalk,” she said. “And it has a new curb and gutter which will be huge for drainage. I’ve had people pulling over and congratulating us. I even saw the elementary school principal and he congratulated us.

“People are very happy about it.”

Duncan MacDonald in December 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Duncan MacDonald in December 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

In Colorado Springs, Duncan MacDonald is equally thrilled about the new sidewalk that stretches in front of his house.

No longer do neighbors, even those in wheelchairs, have to detour into Ute Drive to avoid falling on the old concrete, which had cracked and crumbled under pressure from tree roots.

I told his story in December and it included tales of MacDonald twice rescuing folks in wheelchairs who had become trapped amid the cracks and crevices of his sidewalk.

As a retired contractor, MacDonald knew it would cost thousands to replace the concrete and he couldn’t afford it.

He hoped the city would fix the problem using proceeds from the PPRTA sales tax.

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Since it passed in 2004, MacDonald had read how the street division had fixed more than 109.6 miles of curb and gutter, 3,811 pedestrian ramps, 13,621 “trip hazards” where sidewalks have heaved creating dangerous conditions, and a whopping 54.1 miles of sidewalk.

He’d even put his sidewalk on the waiting list twice, hoping to get it fixed.

But there is such a backlog of broken sidewalk, it had never reached the top of the list, city engineer Chaves told me at the time.

“We’re slowly getting to everyone,” Chaves said, noting the city has 2,362 miles of curb and gutter and sidewalk and many need repair.

But everything changed when Chaves learned that MacDonald was rescuing folks in wheelchairs and that the retired builder and inspector was disabled, as well.

“I’m going to need a wheelchair, but I won’t be able to get out of my house in it,” MacDonald said. “I need to replace the sidewalk to my front door, too. But they can’t do it until the city fixes the public sidewalk out front.

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

“I couldn’t get off my own property in a wheelchair.”

Chaves said the city puts a priority on handicapped accessibility and he vaulted MacDonald’s sidewalk to the top of the list.

When winter weather finally gave crews a window to get busy, they were on the scene.

“They finished up a couple weeks ago,” MacDonald said. “They did a nice job.

“Now I’ve got to save up and do my driveway.”

So thanks to the public servants who made these projects happen. It’s always gratifying when common sense prevails. Congratulations on a job well-done.

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette