What is the monetary value of history?
Is it priceless, or is it sometimes better to pave over it?
These are the questions facing the Athens City Council now that they’ve been challenged by an Athens resident to bring back the brick. And by brick, we’re talking about streets.
Downtown Athens, like many quaint downtowns across America, once had brick streets around its courthouse. The bricks were fine for the horse and buggy days, but they’re not a smooth ride for rubber tires.
Unsurprisingly, the brick was paved over in the 1940s or 1950s; no one knows for sure when. Several times over the last 20 years, however, various Athens citizens and business owners have implored the city to uncover the bricks.
Scott Marshall is leading the most recent charge. He believes, and rightfully so, bringing back the brick would make downtown Athens even more unique than it already is. If he had his druthers, Marshall would like for all the brick to be uncovered.
We would be in favor of seeing some cost estimates to do that, but we also hope the council will act prudently and quickly to bring some closure to the work around The Square. Business owners and the public alike have been waiting a long time for the city to declare the improvements over and done.
Complicating matters is Council President Harold Wales’ own assessment at Monday’s council meeting that the city’s road contractor, Reed Construction, may not be making Athens projects top priority. Yet, it was the council that put the brakes on paving The Square, not Reed Construction, tabling the issue so council members could take a closer look at the bricks.
On Tuesday, Marshall invited Tuscaloosa-based Asphalt Restoration Co. to Athens to remove a section of asphalt from the brick on Market Street. The discovery of well-preserved brick bolstered Marshall’s position that they are worth saving, and put Wales in a serious quandary — to pave or restore?
After seeing what lies underneath the pavement, Wales didn’t know what to do.
Imagine driving or walking on brick streets where Athenians walked 100 years before. Many who grew up in Athens are already fascinated by the city’s early history, and this would only serve to enhance it.
The primary pros are uniqueness and charm. The cons, however, are numerous. The section of brick that was uncovered looked great, but what about the other sections, where extensive utility cuts were made to run power, water and sewer lines to the courthouse and buildings around The Square?
What about sections of brick damaged by previous milling and laying of asphalt and general wear and tear? How much will it cost to uncover the brick and restore it to its original luster? The brick would need to be pressure-washed and possibly treated to ensure it stays resilient for decades to come.
Yes, bringing back the brick would likely be a wonderful addition to a unique downtown, but is it the fiscally responsible thing to do? Those dollars might be better spent on infrastructure and improvements that will be needed for a city growing by leaps and bounds.
Those dollars might also be better spent on more police and fire protection, as referenced in Wednesday’s editorial.
Marshall mentioned there was a pile of original bricks removed when curb and gutter work began on The Square. The council should consider working with our local arts and civic organizations to design a display that would feature the bricks and pay tribute to our storied history.
One thing is for certain — removing all the pavement from The Square and uncovering the brick will not be an inexpensive process. It will likely be costly and time-consuming, which the council needs to consider.