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Middle Path restoration aims to come in under $2 million

Middle Path restoration aims to come in under $2 million

By Victoria Ungvarsky

After months of construction, including the uprooting of 47 trees, the installation of a new storm drain system and the removal of 450 tons of dirt, “Phase 1” of the Middle Path Restoration project is almost complete.

The first section of Middle Path is set to open within the next two weeks, as a portion of Middle Path from Brooklyn Avenue to the stairs between the First-Year Quad and McBride Residence Hall will open for traffic. During the next four weeks, the College expects, the full stretch of Middle Path from Brooklyn Street to Bexley Hall will be completed with a stabilized granite path replacing the pea gravel topping the rest of Middle Path.

The project, which anticipates meeting its budget of just under $2 million, faced numerous bumps in the road including drainage problems and accessibility issues. But maintaining the appearance and feel of Middle Path played a major role in the decision to use the stabilized granite.

“We undertook an exploration of ways that we could … ways that we could maintain the essential qualities of Middle Path that people cherished, while making it also accessible,” Mike Girard, associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., a landscape architecture firm that partnered with Kenyon on the path’s restoration, said.

The restoration of Middle Path began in 2012 with the placement of several test strips made of various combinations of gravel and soil that were laid out and then examined to see how they fared during the winter months. The College repeated the process last year after those initial test strips failed to provide the stability and draining necessary for the final project.

“We’re pretty well-set because we did two mock ups of this last year that set over the winter,” Steven Arnett, director of Campus Planning and Construction and interim director of Facility Operations, said. “We had the chance to beat them up a little bit, so we’re pretty … married to this [plan] at this point. We feel pretty good about this.”

Fixing the drainage problems was the first priority, as the pooling of water on Middle Path led to injuries in previous years. In the winter, the path would ice over due to the puddled water that could not flow. The stabilized granite, which allows the excess water to sink into the soil, confronts this problem on most of Middle Path, and will help ameliorate the effect of the drainage on the soil surrounding the path.

“What we do know about the next phase is…that [it is] going to be more about path installation, so it will be a lot less invasive of a project,” Arnett said. “We’re not cutting down as many trees.”

The Phase 1 section of  Middle Path, running through North Campus, is designed on an angle to prevent water from pooling. “There wasn’t really any kind of drainage system around Middle Path … so that was causing a lot of water issues,” Manager of Special Projects Zachary Cooper ’00 said. “That is completely fixed and [the new material] can sustain all kinds of water drain[age]. … A big piece of the Middle Path construction was accessibility and making sure that there’s no water damage to it, which was really killing Middle Path in the past.”

The most discussed aspect of the Middle Path restoration project is the issue of accessibility. The current gravel creates an uneven texture that is difficult for students with mobility issues. On a campus with numerous other accessibility issues, like a lack of elevators and handicap ramps, addressing this in the new design was key. “If you use any kind of mobility devices or have any types of mobility limitations, it becomes very difficult,” Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said.

However, merely repaving Middle Path was not an option according to Girard, despite its being a simple solution to the accessibility problem. Preserving the Middle Path aesthetic was crucial to the project, and the new stabilized granite should provide a stable enough surface for those with mobility issues. “It’s much easier, smoother for travel using a wheelchair or any other mobility assisted devices,” Kohlman said. “So yeah, we’re pretty confident that it’s going to work.”

President Sean Decatur said, “I’m confident that, at the very least, the new Middle Path will be a vast improvement in terms of accessibility.”

Phase 1 is in its final weeks, and soon the Kenyon community will judge for itself the effectiveness of this new material. Phase 2, which covers the section of Middle Path from the Gates of Hell to Old Kenyon Residence Hall, will begin next summer, while Phase 3, covering the path that runs through the Village of Gambier, is set for completion in the summer of 2016.

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