Historic "Old Sacramento" accessibility project

Cynthia Kranc
Facilities Manager
Department of General Services
City of Sacramento, California
Presenter, 2005 APWA Congress

Sacramento, California was the western terminus for the transcontinental railroad and a primary debarkation point during the Gold Rush. Remnants of these early days can be found at the western end of the City in historic "Old Sacramento," an area which has undergone extensive redevelopment over the years. The area encompasses 28 acres adjacent to the Sacramento River, and is home to 50 buildings and more than 100 stores and businesses. Old Sacramento is registered as a National Landmark and attracts more than five million visitors annually.

A court case involving Old Sacramento and access for the disabled community was settled in 2001. The ruling required the City of Sacramento to modify 5,000 lineal feet of existing 14-foot-wide boardwalk, over 30 curb ramping systems, and multiple parking stalls in order to meet accessibility requirements.

Crew member installing metal framework strategically under the temporary ramping system.

Old Sacramento's 50 historic buildings had doorway elevations that varied from "level" with the existing boardwalk, to doorway elevation changes as great as 12 inches. Some of the entrances are within several feet of each other. Precision elevation changes were needed in order to build a continuously undulating boardwalk that addressed each and every public entrance. An architectural firm was contracted to design the modifications and deliver the plans. Because of the complexity of the project and the many unknowns, plans were not completed until the spring of 2004 and at a cost estimate of $5.7 million, nearly triple the original projection.

With a court mandate to complete the project by January 2005, the next challenge for the City was to decide how best to deliver this complex project. In an effort to streamline the schedule and remain flexible in addressing the multiple unknowns at the site, the City of Sacramento determined that this unique construction project should be performed with City staff, specialty contractors and temporary hires.

The variables that needed to be considered for this project included the unknown condition of the concrete slab under the existing boardwalk, the disruption to the Old Sacramento merchants and businesses, basement water intrusion issues because of hollow sidewalks under the boardwalk, an older electrical system, parking stalls, meters, and drainage. In addition to the project complexities, the Old Sacramento merchants were deeply concerned about meeting sales goals while construction was in progress in front of their businesses. And all of this was being scheduled concurrent with special events and the prosperous winter holidays.

In an effort to develop the most efficient and cost-effective plan for delivering the project, three test sections were performed during July and August of 2004. The next task was to address the need for a temporary pathway for pedestrians that also allowed entrance into the various businesses. This was accomplished with the installation of a metal ramping system that was assembled in the street and bridged over the construction area into the building doorways. The metal ramping system provided excellent flexibility during construction because of the system's ability to be disassembled and moved from section to section.

We had an extensive list of tasks that needed to be sequenced that included the demolition of the existing boardwalk, cleaning the concrete slab, addressing waterproofing issues created by the hollow sidewalk areas, replacing streetlight wiring and conduit that ran the full length under the boardwalk, installing the undulating steel framing, securing the 14-foot boards, constructing specialty platforms and decks at many entrances, installing iron railings, and pouring new concrete ramps at corners and alleys. Construction schedules were developed showing completion of 165-foot sections every two weeks, with multiple sections occurring at the same time. Based on the alternate delivery method and test section experience, the cost estimate was revised down to $3.9 million.

Completed boardwalk sections were required to meet the various entry elevations. The solution for this entrance was a 1 in 12 ramp.

Recruitment of additional temporary labor enhanced existing City staff. Temporary carpenters, electricians, and maintenance workers completed a 12-person crew. Several key specialty contractors were also brought on board to perform unique tasks. To minimize disruption to the merchants, 10-hour shifts began at 5:00 a.m., six days a week.

City staff met monthly with merchants to communicate schedules and provide a forum for merchant feedback. Flyers were made available to Old Sacramento visitors, news articles were released, banners were hung and balloons brought in, all as part of the City's outreach plan to minimize the effect on the businesses in Old Sacramento. It was critical that visitors knew that stores were open during construction. The project was fully underway following the Gold Rush Days event that occurred on Labor Day weekend.

When the project was approximately one-third complete we recognized that design enhancements to the remaining boardwalk architectural plans would be a great benefit. All interested parties met and collaborated with City staff and the architectural firm to brainstorm modifications. At this point everyone agreed that the deadline for completion should be extended to May 2005 to allow adequate time for the process and the changes. An added benefit of moving the completion date up was a break in the construction project during the holidays, the merchants' busiest time of the year.

While there have been competing interests and challenges, the City of Sacramento is on target to bring the project in under budget and ahead of schedule. In the late spring of 2005 City staff and key suppliers and contractors will have successfully addressed accessibility issues for our disabled community and our businesses, while blending the project with the aesthetics of historic Old Sacramento.

Cynthia Kranc will give a presentation on this topic at the APWA Congress in Minneapolis in September. She can be reached at (916) 808-2258 or at ckranc@cityofsacramento.org.