Doughboy statue, historic trees top concerns over Courthouse Square plans

Published 1:38 pm Friday, July 18, 2008

Residents at a public informational meeting Tuesday about the Town of Columbus&squo; plans to improve Courthouse, Gibson and Ward streets in the courthouse area of Columbus expressed concerns over such possibilities as moving the Doughboy statue and cutting down historic trees.

Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman and Greg Lambert and Cameron Patterson with Withers & Ravenel Engineers, Planners and Surveyors of Cary met with about 20 local residents to hear comments about the design options.

Most residents said they want the Doughboy memorial to remain in its current location and expressed concern over possibly damaging the historic statue if it were to be moved. Some of the designs for the improvements suggest moving the statue, while others leave it in its current location.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Other residents said they were concerned about cutting some historic trees that surround the courthouse and the money it will take to make improvements given the current economy.

Some residents said Columbus is a nicely laid out town and the streets should remain as they are now. The plan is to make Courthouse Street one-way, which will give the area more parking spaces. Depending on the design, the town can gain at least eight and at most 12 additional parking spaces. The group Tuesday night seemed to agree that angled parking spaces would be better for the area instead of the current straight spaces for additional spaces as well as safety factors.

The courthouse lawn was a topic of discussion with residents, some of whom apparently thought the improvement plans included the lawn. Officials clarified that the town is proposing improvements only on the street level, which the town owns. The courthouse lawn is owned by the county and anything done to it would have to be approved by the county.

Improvements the town is planning include sidewalks, replacing the Bradford Pear trees on the sidewalk, adding a gazebo, arbors or pergolas at corners, constructing a shelter over the Womack Building for shade and constructing bumpouts.

Officials said Tuesday that they are leaning toward option 7, which leaves the Doughboy statue in its current location. Ward Street will remain two-way, but Courthouse Street would be made one-way with traffic coming onto Courthouse Street from Hwy. 108.

Town officials say the town may hire an arborist to survey the trees and tell which trees should be cut down and which can stay.

&dquo;People at the farmers market want the trees to stay,&dquo; said Ernie Kahn, &dquo;not only for the shade, but that is history.&dquo;

Kathleen Kent said she&squo;s felt strongly for a long time that the sidewalks in the square need to be level.

&dquo;The street trees ‐&dquo; Kent said, &dquo;some of them should be replaced with more appropriate trees.&dquo;

She said she was told that the Bradford Pears are not going to last and their root system damages the sidewalks.

Lambert said he is looking at replacing trees with native trees that won&squo;t tear up the sidewalks. Town officials also said they will reuse all the current bricks in new sidewalks.

Residents also discussed arbors for shade. Hugh Porter said he is concerned the town would only be making it more comfortable for people who attend on court days.

&dquo;Now (with the plan) it looks like we&squo;re making it more comfortable for the people we&squo;re concerned with,&dquo; said Porter.

Holloman and Lambert said the comments from the public are exactly what they want. Lambert said he wasn&squo;t aware of some historic trees and the public needs to write down any ideas they have for Columbus officials. The eight designs have been created as ideas and items from each can be combined for a master plan, Lambert said.

The design stage of the project will cost the town $30,000, after which the town will be able to bid out the project. Columbus plans to spend state Powell Bill funds for the project and finance the remainder with no tax increases in order to complete the project.

Holloman said previously town council was scheduled to approve a design during a meeting tonight, but after hearing comments that many people may not have attended the meeting because of a misunderstanding about its schedule, Holloman said he&squo;d recommend that council table the vote until August.

The eight different designs for the streets around the courthouse will remain on display at Columbus Town Hall. The public is invited to look at the designs and write notes on them to give officials ideas of what the public wants for the streets. Holloman also said he&squo;d look into hanging copies of the designs in a location such as the Polk County library, since the library stays open later than town hall.

Holloman said he will be discussing the idea with the Polk County Board of Commissioners during a meeting next Monday to get ideas from the county. Columbus will discuss the issue tonight and will most likely table it and discuss it again in August.