Barth Avenue

Harry Funk/The Almanac

The brick of Barth Avenue in Mt. Lebanon

Members of the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board and other community residents are working toward saving the municipality’s brick streets.

And their efforts are getting results.

“We are currently under a moratorium,” said Anna Siefken, who chairs the board, at its Jan. 20 meeting. “No brick streets will be reconstructed during the course of this construction season, which is technically through July 31.”

Mt. Lebanon commissioners agreed to the moratorium at their December discussion session, during which Siefken presented the elements of a draft brick street preservation policy. She also spoke about the work of her board and members of a related brick streets steering committee in gathering relevant details.

John Bendel, an eight-year commissioner whose term since expired, addressed the purpose of the policy.

“For some in the community, brick streets are viewed as an asset to contribute to the community’s historic character,” he said. “We need to get better data about the life-cycles costs of a brick street, for example, so that when we’re talking with residents, we have that data and we can use it to make decisions.”

Siefken said residents involved with the steering committee have had conversations with others who live in Mt. Lebanon to gain support for the policy, and they have conducted substantial research on the topic.

“Several municipalities and cities we’ve found are actually adding brick streets to enhance sustainability and durability, contribute to stormwater management by slowing drain water, traffic-calming effects and making a statement about the importance of charm and historic character to property values,” she told commissioners.

An objective of the policy is to open lines of communication between residents and municipal officials.

“In essence, we’d like to advocate for a process that allows multiple stakeholders to contribute to how decisions are made, in due process and with considered outreach,” Siefken said.

She acknowledged saving brick streets represents a costly endeavor.

“But we see a path forward where proactive maintenance, paired with smaller repair projects, can preserve more of the historic aspect, not less, over time,” she said.

The 2020 municipal budget provides for $64,000 toward maintenance to restore 4,275 square feet of deteriorated brick street surfaces, matching the 2019 allotment. This year’s spending plan includes an additional $50,000 for repairing 3,340 more square feet of damaged brick streets, plus $30,550 for reconstruction of 470 linear feet of curbs along such roads.

During the Historic Preservation Board meeting, Siefken said she met the previous week with Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation officials with regard to the policy.

“They were very interested in understanding what we are learning here, so that they could then use it in other parts of the city,” she said. “They didn’t have access to the kinds of data that we thought they might. It was more of the connection points and a strong interest and being involved, to say that doing this in a municipality is the right thing to do for all of the reasons we’ve talked about and mentioned.”

For informational purposes, the officials also set up connections between Mt. Lebanon and other communities where projects incorporating brick streets have been undertaken.

Commissioner Mindy Ranney, who succeeded Bendel at the start of the year in representing Ward 1 and serves as commission liaison to the Historic Preservation Board, said she and her colleagues are impressed with what is being accomplished in support of a new policy.

“There is a sentiment that the work the board has done on brick streets is almost a model for other boards,” she said. “There’s a level of respect for the amount of work and effort you’ve put in so far.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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