City of Laurens secures $1.28 million grant to replace sidewalks and uncover historic brick streets

February 13, 2024

The City of Laurens has secured a $1.28 million grant from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). This grant, awarded through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), will fund a transformative project to improve Laurens’ aging sidewalks. In addition to making the Square safer and more accessible, this grant will also allow the city to uncover its brick streets concealed beneath asphalt for more than 80 years.

This project reflects the City of Laurens’ commitment to building a safe, walkable city that is accessible to all. “It is important that our public infrastructure is brought up to date so that no one is excluded from the life of our town simply because they do not feel safe getting around on our sidewalks,” said Mayor Nathan Senn. “This will be a major leap forward in making our city safer and more accessible, and we are grateful to the SC Department of Transportation for helping us make this long-overdue improvement.”

The City’s streetscape plans also demonstrate the value it places on its unique heritage. The Laurens Advertiser reported on February 19, 1908, almost exactly 116 years ago to the day, that City Council determined to pave the city’s then-red clay streets. In April 1908, Council approved a contract for paving twelve thousand square yards of the historic square. A foundation of eight inches of concrete was poured all around the Square with room set aside for a lawn around the courthouse and new sidewalks in front of local shops. On top of this concrete, thousands of extrathick, extra-hard “vitrified” bricks were laid. Now, more than a century later, the city is set to renew its commitment to preserving this special infrastructure inheritance.

Most city streets are not owned or maintained by the City of Laurens even though they are located within the city limits. Instead, almost all of the city’s streets are owned and maintained by the SC Department of Transportation. Of the handful of small side streets and alleys that are owned by the City of Laurens, many of these have been repaved in recent years. The City of Laurens, in coordination with the Laurens County Transportation Commission, has worked to identify those city-owned streets which needed paving, and there has been a significant investment in these repaving projects across the city. Yet, the Square itself has not been paved in more than three decades – and it shows.

“We have a terrific opportunity to take advantage of an investment that was made 116 years ago to solve a paving problem we face today,” said Mayor Senn. “While the average life expectancy of an asphalt surface may be 20 years, the brick streets we have inherited are as solid today as they were the day they were laid, and I expect to be dead and gone before the City is ever faced with the need to replace them. We owe a debt of gratitude, not just to SCDOT for funding this project, but to the leaders of the past who made a wise investment so many years ago.”

Expressing their enthusiasm for this significant achievement, Mayor Nathan Senn and City Administrator Eric Delgado emphasized the city’s dedication to preserving its historical charm while simultaneously building a more sustainable, accessible, and interconnected future. Mayor Senn commented, “This TAP grant marks a pivotal moment for Laurens as we strive to build a community that is more vibrant, accessible, and connected than ever before.” City Administrator Eric Delgado highlighted the collaborative effort that contributed to securing the grant, stating, “This achievement is a testament to the tireless dedication of our city staff, community stakeholders, and residents. It signifies a significant step in our efforts to enhance our infrastructure and showcase the unique historical elements that define Laurens as part of the larger vision of Connect Laurens.”

The SCDOT will manage the construction of this project but will do so in coordination with the City of Laurens. The City’s administration will coordinate with Main Street Laurens and local merchants to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible to businesses during demolition and construction. This project will be implemented in sections to avoid the disruption of demolition and construction all around the Square all at once.

“We know that people will have many questions about this project, and so we are setting up a project information page which will be featured on the City of Laurens website and will have answers to frequently asked questions,” said Mayor Senn. “One thing I know will be on people’s minds is what will happen to the bricks with names and messages that were placed around the Square over the years. Well, no need to fear! Those bricks will be put back where they are, and this time they won’t cause a trip hazard!”

City Administrator Delgado said, “This financial support empowers us to construct modern, ADA-compliant sidewalks, enhance our streets, and establish a truly pedestrian-friendly area. Our focus is on nurturing a strong sense of community and equipping residents and our locally-owned businesses with the infrastructure necessary to thrive. Achieving ADA compliance is the ultimate goal, ensuring that our city is fully accessible and inclusive for everyone. We thank the SC Department of Transportation for helping us advance toward that goal.”