Campus construction creates roadblocks a year later

By Sydney Stalnecker

Youngstown State University’s campus buzzed with construction over the summer months. Upon students’ arrival back to campus, they can observe a paved and painted Fifth Avenue, sparkling bathrooms in Kilcawley Center and new additions to the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, located on Wick Avenue.  

Charles Shasho, deputy director of Public Works for the City of Youngstown, has been overseeing the construction project, which cost the city $6.5 million, on Fifth Avenue for about a year. 

“Fifth Avenue started a little over a year ago. Basically, this project was a safety upgrade for pedestrian access,” Shasho said. “We added a little bit of sewer separation, some green infrastructure, drainage improvements, as well as wider sidewalks and better lighting to make it more pedestrian friendly.”

With these changes focusing on pedestrian safety, the road itself now has fewer lanes and a new median. The single lanes are classified as sharing lanes, allowing bikers access to the road as well.

“It’s down to one lane in each direction. The traffic volumes have not shown that that’s going to be an issue,” Shasho said. 

However, the construction did not come to a close during YSU’s summer break. The construction on the roadway is nearly finished, but the nationwide shortage of traffic signal poles has delayed Fifth Avenue construction, Shasho said.

“Once the poles are in, we will be able to remove the old poles and then finish all the miscellaneous concrete work and brick paver work that’s there because we can’t do that until the old poles are removed,” Shasho said.

The planting of traffic poles is expected to occur in September, officially completing the construction on Fifth Avenue.

However, construction on Youngstown roads won’t be going away anytime soon. The construction on Fifth Avenue is only phase one of three in the SMART2 Network plan. Phase two involves redoing Front Street, Commerce Street, Federal Street, Rayen Avenue, Phelps Street and another section of Fifth and Park avenues leading up to Mercy Health.

“They’re working on Phelps Street right now. I expect that to be completed by the end of the year,” Shasho said. “Then, they’ll go right into Front Street and Commerce Street.”

The third phase involves autonomous shuttles traveling from the Western Reserve Transit Authority’s main station up Fifth Avenue to Mercy Health. The WRTA plans to test these shuttles in spring 2022.

“WRTA has received a grant for two autonomous shuttles, the build grant itself is actually going to be supplying two additional ones, so there could potentially be four autonomous shuttles running for that at some point.”

On the opposite side of campus, the public library has seen its share of construction over the summer as well. The library celebrated the end of phase one renovations with a ribbon cutting ceremony Aug. 16 as they opened the Family Engagement Center. 

Aimee Fifarek, director and CEO of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, has been involved in the entire process.

“Technically, we just finished with the first phase when we opened the Family Engagement Center last week, so we had a great grand opening of the space which is for the entire family,” Fifarek said. “We also have an all-ages DIY maker-space and the storytime area, as well as a hands-on STEM area for the littler ones.”

Throughout the fall semester, the public library will continue to see renovations as it progresses further into phase two. This only involves the second floor of the library and is expected to be finished by the beginning of 2022.

The entire renovation is projected to be finished in summer 2022. With the third phase of renovations, the library seeks to restore the historical qualities of the building.

“The original historic building, which is the west building along Wick Avenue, was built in 1910, and that building had actually two skylights and glass block floors and ceilings so that natural light filtered all the way down through the building and into the reading rooms,” Fifarek said. “As part of this renovation and some of the historical reconstructions that we’re doing, we’re actually replacing one of those skylights and recreating the light-well, so once again we will have natural light into the building.”

Safety is another concern and influence on the renovations.

“There was definitely some work that needed to be done on the historic building. We couldn’t use the original entrance on Wick Avenue, it was only an emergency exit because of some of the disrepair, and it was time for everything to have a facelift,” she said

The final product will include new additions such as a new entryway facing the parking lot, culinary literacy center, 125-seat meeting space, patio and event lawn. 

Campus buildings were not exempt from summer construction. The routine construction was administered on the Wick Parking Deck, and some new concrete was placed throughout campus to make walking from class to class easier.

The fourth floor of the Wick parking deck will remain under construction during the semester. A coating that protects the concrete from salt migration is failing and needs to be replaced. 

Most bathrooms in Cushwa Hall and Kilcawley Center were finished prior to students returning to campus as well. Richard White, director of planning and construction at YSU, said the bathroom construction has been in the works for a long time.

“They were in pretty rough shape and we were going to do them a long time ago, and there was a project there to actually renovate and update Kilcawley Center and that was in 2010,” White said. “They’ve needed it for a long time and we thought this year would be a perfect year to start doing it.”

White mentioned two projects currently out for bid.

“We are going to fix up a little bit of the greenhouse that’s on the south end of Ward Beecher, and then, also, we have a classroom over in Stambaugh Stadium and Beeghly Center [where] we’re getting a physical therapy room,” White said.

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