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$70M of repair projects underway in Lowell

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An example of Downtown Lowell wayfinding signs that will be replaced as part of a $700,000 improvement project that starts in July for installation by fall 2024. (Melanie Gilbert/Lowell Sun)

LOWELL — The city is investing almost $70 million in major infrastructure projects throughout Lowell to address issues with roadways, sidewalks and intersections to downtown wayfinding signs and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

Much of the work is expected to be completed by this fall.

The motion leading to Tuesday night’s City Council meeting report was filed by Councilor Vesna Nuon at the council’s Jan. 30 meeting.

In response, Assistant City Manager/Department of Planning and Development Director Yovani Baez-Rose said the city has a significant number of major projects that are under construction or planned to start construction in the coming year.

“DPD worked with representatives from [the Department of Public Works] to consolidate information regarding the many projects underway,” she said in a memo that was also addressed to DPW Commissioner Paul St. Cyr.

The major repair projects are an effort by the administration of City Manager Tom Golden to improve facilities and services in city buildings and the city’s schools, which fall under the city’s fiscal budget.

Both the School Committee and the City Council are responsible for school buildings. The school district uses the buildings, but almost all are owned by the city. The district is responsible for custodial services, like cleaning, while the city is responsible for repairs.

Baez-Rose’s list shows a $673,480 allocation to replace the existing chiller at the Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School. During the Feb. 7 School Committee, St. Cyr said that mechanical replacement would help address the majority of the longstanding and pervasive mold issues in the school.

“When we have the chiller in place to be able to evaporate the moisture in the air that they’re experiencing, that’s the overwhelming need,” he said. “It will help with the high humidity, too.”

That project is expected to start once school releases in June and be completed by November.

Much of the city’s project list focuses on roadways, sidewalks and intersections, which has been reported on previously. Also slated for repair is the Pollard Memorial Library elevator, which has been intermittently working since August 2022, presenting accessibility issues for patrons and staff.

More than a third of the project monies — $23.9 million — will flow to the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility, also known as Duck Island, for Phase 3 treatment plant upgrades to ensure the utility continues to meet environmental regulations.

The city signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that requires Lowell to meet a schedule for the elimination and control of combined sewer pipes that carry both wastewater — or effluent — and stormwater to comply with provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Sewer separation projects improve the water quality of the Merrimack River by reducing the combined sewer overflows into the 117-mile federal waterway. Besides Lowell, the LRWWU serves the towns of Tyngsboro, Dracut, Tewksbury and Chelmsford.

“CSOs are very expensive, very costly and time-consuming,” LRWWU Executive Director Aaron Fox said during a bipartisan roundtable held in April to solicit state and federal help in addressing the cost of sewer separation projects.

“It is a regional problem when you see the scope of what it takes to do CSO reductions,” Fox said, noting that the plant, which was built in 1980, is already at its processing capacity.

The improvements aim to modernize outdated equipment, streamline operations, ensure the continued reliability of critical infrastructure, comply with current and future environmental permits and reduce ongoing operation and maintenance costs. This project is expected to begin this fall and be complete by January 2027.

As Lowell continues to position itself as a destination city, and prepares for thousands of visitors to its annual Lowell Summer Music Series in June and storied Lowell Folk Festival in July, $700,000 has been allocated for new pedestrian scale signage and kiosks to be installed throughout downtown. This work is expected to begin in July with a fall completion date.

Another large-scale, high-ticket project of $2.9 million is replacing the existing grass field at Carvalho Field with new synthetic turf.

And the city’s $675,000 contribution to the South Common renovation continues this month and includes improvement of the amphitheater area, installation of a rain garden, multilingual wayfinding and the planting of 35 trees as part of the South Common Arboretum. This project is expected to be completed this summer.

Nuon was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting and further discussion was rescheduled for the May 21 council meeting, but Councilor John Leahy asked Golden on the status of school repair projects.

“I don’t see the Reilly School ceiling tiles in there,” Leahy said. “What happened?”

Golden said that with the exception of the PMES, most of the school repair projects were not included on this DPD/DPW list because “we’ve answered them in the past,” but he offered to update the list with all the school projects for next week’s meeting.

Repairs have also been a focus of the School Committee, which has submitted numerous motions for progress reports on roofs and other building components like heating and cooling.

Superintendent of Schools Liam Skinner recently added a quarterly key performance indicators report to the committee’s agenda, which details outstanding work orders in district schools.

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