Santa Rosa's Old Courthouse Square reunification delayed

Santa Rosa’s reunification of Old Courthouse Square is unlikely to be done by the start of the holiday shopping season, missing a planned deadline, city officials said last week.

Until recently, the high-profile project had been on track to wrap up construction by Nov. 18. But a redesign of the new square’s electrical system has set the $12 million work back by about a month.

The city is now hoping the fast-tracked project can be completed by mid-December, said Jason Nutt, director of the Transportation and Public Works Department.

“Up until two weeks ago, we had been hoping or anticipating that we were going to be on schedule,” Nutt said Friday.

But a “fairly comprehensive redesign” and expansion of the system of electrical outlets in the square has made that original deadline unattainable, Nutt said.

Some merchants around the square said the delay couldn’t come at a worse time, given that the holiday season is their busiest time of the year. But they added the news wasn’t very surprising and took it in stride, given the magnitude of the project.

“We’re hopeful once it is completed it will draw more people,” said Kelley Rajala, co-owner of Made Local Marketplace, across from the square on the north side of Fourth Street.

The new deadline is now between Dec. 7 and Dec. 20. The precise date is yet to be worked out with the Novato-based contractor, Thompson Builders Corp., Nutt said.

The changes will add about $200,000 to the cost of the project, which is still within the project’s budget, he said.

The construction cost is estimated at $9.2 million, with an additional $2.5 million in interest payments.

The changes were needed because the original design called for consolidating the electrical outlets into two raised boxes each housing multiple outlets, Nutt said.

Designers thought locating the outlets inside lockable boxes would make it easier for the city to control when the outlets were used. For example, the boxes could be opened for a farmers market or concert, but remain locked the rest of the time, Nutt said.

That design would have prevented unauthorized people from charging electronic devices at the outlets, Nutt said.

However, city engineers later realized such “spider boxes” could create a tangle of extension cords extending across the square, which was not ideal.

The new design calls for far more outlets - about 50 - distributed throughout the square. Most will be located at the base of half of the 90 custom-made lightposts in and around the square, Nutt said.

The costs of building and digging for the new electrical system were anticipated. But the increased time for the lightposts to be constructed and delivered was not fully expected, Nutt said.

The delays will push completion past the scheduled date for the annual “Winter Lights” downtown tree-lighting, which last year was Nov. 27.

Officials with the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the tree-lighting, have discussed holding another event in its place near the area, Rajala said.

Janet Rogers, a vice president with the group, said the tree lighting will take place as planned the day after Thanksgiving, likely at another downtown location, but details are still being discussed.

Kindred Fair Trade Handcrafts on Fourth Street has experienced more foot traffic during construction because visitors are forced to walk on the north side of the street while the south side is closed, one employee said.

“We have seen quite a lot of people,” said Joyful Braun, an employee at Kindred.

Russian River Brewing Co., which attracts about 300,000 visitors annually to its taproom farther down Fourth Street, has not experienced many problems with the construction, said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of the brewery.

The only minor inconvenience, Cilurzo said, has been for delivery vehicles.

Staff Writer Bill Swindell contributed reporting.

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