When the city of Gloucester last month kicked off $3.1 million worth of work designed to improve water and sewer service to neighborhood homes and handle flows from the 200 housing units and new YMCA planned as part of the Fuller School project, it touted the work to neighbors as the “Trask Street area improvement project.”

Trask Street resident Carol Falcone refers to it differently.

“I call it the Trask Street destruction project,” she says. “For the people who live up here, it’s been a disaster.”

While the project has come with some planned, temporary shutdowns of water service to residents, it’s brought some unwelcome surprises.

On Halloween, a large rock fell into a construction hole and caused unplanned service disruption to several residents on Trask and Warner streets. Then, when the thermometer plunged below freezing last weekend, water froze in some temporary mains connected to a number of houses, shutting down primary water service again and causing what Falcone calls “grit and grime” to jam up and damage some faucets and some home appliances.

Finally, the work — geared toward improving service to water and sewer customers on Trask, Warner, Shepherd, Millett and Sargent streets, and leading to new sidewalks and other improvements in the area — has produced steady detours for residents.

“Every day, when you wake up, you don’t know what you’re going to be dealing with,” Falcone said. “It’s been a nightmare.”

Caught off guard

Mike Hale, Gloucester’s director of public works, acknowledges the project has sparked some problems.

In the Halloween loss of water service, he said a piece of stone — he called it a “volleyball-sized rock”; Falcone called it a “boulder” — fell into a hole and knocked out a “corporation” between the water mains that serves as a connector. That cut off water to residents.

“It was not a scheduled shutdown, and people were without water for a time,” Hale conceded. “Not to diminish what they were dealing with, but we did have crews out there to repair it as soon as possible.”

As to the frozen temporary mains, Hale noted that low temperatures and accompanying winds last Saturday and the day before caught crews a bit off guard.

“All of these projects are weather-dependent, but this is an exceptional cold snap for the early part of November,” he said. “The contractors take precautions to have the water running slowly to keep it from freezing, but that essentially didn’t happen with one of the small diameter bypass mains. 

“Again, not to diminish what it meant for the residents,” Hale added, “but this was also a good exercise for us in terms of how to manage this. We had crews up there at 6 a.m. to make repairs and everyone had their water back on four hours later.”

The overall project is being funded largely through a $3 million MassWorks grant provided by the state to the city to support economic development.

While Hale and other city officials have emphasized the work is a city project boosting the water and sewer capacities for the five streets, it is also closely tied to the need to boost water and sewer flows to and from what is being developed on the Fuller School site. Two hundred apartment units will be part of that work, along with the planned new Cape Ann YMCA and additional retail shops for Sam Park & Company, which also developed the adjacent Gloucester Crossing plaza. Work on the Fuller site pumping station has not yet begun.

First finish line ahead

Hale said the water work in the Trask Street neighborhood should be completed within “five or six days” or before Thanksgiving. Work on the sewer lines in the same area will follow. He added that the overall first phase of the project should be completed before Thanksgiving, weather permitting.

The work is being carried out by general contractor N. Granese & Sons, Inc. of Salem, with CDM-Smith Inc., the city’s design engineers, serving as the project designer.

Falcone emphasized that she has no issues with Granese & Sons, whom she praised for reaching out to let neighbors know of its plans, though she said the city has been lax in keeping the neighborhood updated regarding the work.

“The water problems, the detours — all of it — we’ll all just be glad when it’s over,” she said. “I really think this is too big a project for the city to take on. This neighborhood is a close-knit neighborhood, but it’s too condensed for something like this.

“There’s no reason there couldn’t have been a better way than to disrupt this entire neighborhood,” Falcone said. “We’ve been going through hell and back.”

Hale, however, sees the overall project as one that is essential and worthwhile.

“I recognize people’s apprehension,” he said, “and we are trying to get in and out of there as soon as possible. But this will all be for the benefit of the neighborhood, and it will be an improvement for this neighborhood for generations to come.”

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705 or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

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