BRICK BY BRICK The rumble of rubber tires across a tightly set pattern of bricks sounds like coming home to people who live on one of Mt. Lebanon’s 75 bucolic brick streets. The majority of the streets were constructed in the 1930s and many were restored in the 1980s. Some look just as fresh as they always have. But that’s not the case with all of them.
This year, as Mt. Lebanon embarked on its road reconstruction program, tempers flared among a group of residents when they learned the lower portion of Duquesne Drive would be reconstructed in asphalt, after the torrential rains of the June, 2018, storm carried away much of the road’s base. Hilf Street also was hard hit by the storm. Gateway Engineers, Mt. Lebanon’s contracted engineering firm, determined both streets would need to be rebuilt. Because those sections of road are sharply inclined, making the surface slick with fall leaves and winter ice and snow, Gateway determined the best material for the road would be asphalt. The Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board, which has long supported preservation of brick streets, did not object to the work. Commissioners approved the plan, and it was placed on the 2019 street reconstruction schedule.
But when it came time for individual notification via letter, a group of residents on Duquesne were outraged. They attended commission meetings to plead for reconsideration, saying the brick street was part of the neighborhood’s charm, it enhances their property values and the brick keeps traffic speeds lower, which in turn keeps their children safer when they are near the road. The residents also attended a Historic Preservation Board meeting and demanded the board support their efforts. The board agreed.
The Historic Preservation Board, a volunteer panel that advises the Mt. Lebanon commission, had been working since 2016 on a policy that would have helped the commissioners make decisions on which brick streets are truly historic and what streets could be recommended for asphalt by creating a prioritization list. But changes in board staffing and some of the volunteers’ availability to attend meetings stalled the project until this summer’s Duquesne Drive uproar.
As you might imagine, brick streets are more expensive to construct and repair than asphalt. But they also last longer and cost less to maintain, according to a 2016 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation report prepared as part of the asphalt reconstruction of Castle Shannon Boulevard. Calculating life cycle costs is an important consideration in making decisions about brick street preservation. Other variables include the use of road salt and the differences in the way bricks are manufactured now as compared with the original bricks.
The PennDOT report grouped brick streets into four categories: The top priority streets would require restoration to their original appearance. The second category would merit preservation but not restoration. Category three would require review and consideration by the HPB and the bottom category could be considered for resurfacing and patching with materials other than brick.
Criteria for placing streets into those categories included the condition of the street, whether it is located in Mt. Lebanon’s National Historic District, the architectural integrity of the neighborhood and the presence of underground utilities.
But the Duquesne Drive backlash exposed some flaws in the plan. Duquesne was rated a 3, the second from the bottom. However, the street is just one street away from the Historic District. The storm damage also created a critical repair in a street that was otherwise in great condition.
Now the Historic Preservation Board is re-energizing its efforts to recommend a policy and new set of criteria. Led by board chair Anna Siefken, the board has mobilized a group of community volunteers, with the blessing of commissioner John Bendel, the board’s commission liaison.
As a first step, Siefken approached commissioners to request funding to beef up repair of brick streets. The base level of funding for such repairs this year was $65,000. She requested that money also be allocated in the 2020 budget, along with an additional $50,000 to do even more repairs, plus an additional $25,000 to find a way to store and house bricks removed from streets for use in future repairs. Commissioners will consider that funding when they vote on the budget December 10.
In the meantime, Siefken and the HPB will work on researching costs, how similar communities handle their brick street restoration and the potential for a moratorium on paving any brick streets until June, when the board hopes to propose a new policy. Stay posted.
Read the PennDOT report here.
NOTIFY ME! Back in the “old days,” Mt. Lebanon would let you know about impending emergencies by blasting a siren, about road closures by asking that it be read on the local evening news, and about meetings by running a legal ad in the newspaper once a year.
These days, our sirens have been retired and residents are busier than ever. So we have many different kinds of alerts that will bring important news to you, wherever you are. Here’s a list so you can sign up for what you want.
Format: Text, email (you select the methods)
Subject: Various categories let you get notifications on the subjects you select, such as community events, cancellations and closures, recreation programs, traffic/utility work. These alerts can be important but they are only for non-emergency matters.
To sign up and choose format: Go to www.mtlebanon.org.
Format: Text, cell call, landline call, TTY, email (you select the methods)
Subject: LeboEmergency lets you sign up for notifications about life-threatening emergencies, such as an active shooter, gas leak, evacuation, missing person, chemical spill, etc.
To sign up and choose format: Text LEBO to 99411 or go to www.mtlebanon.org.
Mt. Lebanon Magazine
Format: Full-color magazine published by the municipality 10 times a year (You are reading it!)
Subject: News you need to know if you live in Mt. Lebanon, features about new businesses, residents’ accomplishments, home and garden tips.
To sign up: Automatically sent to all homes and businesses in Mt. Lebanon. Subscriptions are available for those who live elsewhere for $35. Subscribe at www.lebomag.com.
The Seven Ten Newsletter
Format: Bi-weekly email newsletter
Subject: Reminders of deadlines, fun community events, breaking news that came in too late for Mt. Lebanon Magazine
To sign up: Go to www.lebomag.com.
Recreation Department Newsletter
Format: Weekly email
Subject: Recreation programs and events
To sign up: You receive it after you sign up for any recreation program or call 412-343-3409 to be added.
Surf through the latest news
Format: Municipal websites
Subject: Anything and everything, 24 hours a day
Go to any one of our websites for more information on things that matter to you:
Cable Channel: Municipal information channels are Comcast channel 17 and Verizon channel 34. We do not have channels on any of the satellite dish setups.
Impending dangerous weather alerts: Check your cell phone settings. Many carriers allow you to select emergency notifications issued by the National Weather Service. You also can install apps from AccuWeather and Weather.com that will send notifications to your phone.
BUDGET WORKSHOP, HEARING SLATED FOR DECEMBER The Mt. Lebanon Commission will be voting on adopting the 2020 municipal budget at its Tuesday, December 10, meeting. Work on the budget begins in the summer, as all municipal department heads meet several times with Municipal Manager Keith McGill and with members of the Mt. Lebanon Finance Department. The recommended budget was made public on November 1 and commissioners held two budget workshops in November, with a final workshop scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday, December 5, at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building, 710 Washington Road.
Copies of the budget are available for viewing at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library and at the customer service center in the municipal building during, and can be viewed online. Meetings and workshops can be viewed on Comcast channel 17, Verizon channel 34 or online at www.mtlebanon.org, under “Meeting Videos.”
Mt. Lebanon’s proposed 2020 operating budget is $34.4 million. The total combined budget, which includes capital improvement items, is $57.3 million.
Property tax is proposed to remain at 4.71 mills. A mill is $1 of tax money for every $1,000 of a home’s assessed value. In addition to municipal property tax, residents are assessed a 4.73-mill county rate and a school district rate of 24.79 mills, for a total of 34.23 mills.
Although no increases are planned for earned income or real estate transfer tax rates, revenues from these taxes are expected to increase by 2.8 percent for earned income and 8.6 percent for real estate transfer, yielding a projected total of $495,000. A 9.3 percent increase in state pension aid, coupled with a 2020 grant for fire department equipment, will bring in an additional $283,000 in intergovernmental revenue.
Personnel services, which accounts for 55.4 percent of general fund expenditures, is projected to increase slightly, about 1.8 percent, because of contractual wage increases and an 8 percent rise in healthcare costs. With no plans to increase the number of full-time employees, that number will remain at 152.
Contractual services, which includes professional services, insurance, utilities and special appropriations to organizations such as Medical Rescue Team South and the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, accounts for 26.1 percent of the budget, and is expected to increase by 1.5 percent, or $153,830. A $51,000 increase in special appropriations and $47,000 from the professional services budget for design and implementation of a new municipal website and for earned income tax collection due to volume increases account for the bulk of the increase.