Bricks replacement project delayed one year

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's project to replace the worn, slippery bricks in its central courtyard will be delayed by one year.

Rather than starting work when the theater season ends this fall and completing the project before theaters reopen in the spring of 2008, OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson said work will start in late 2008. The project should be finished by February 2009, before that year's theater season.

Nicholson said a number of factors have led to the delay.

Under new Artistic Director Bill Rauch, OSF is making changes to the Green Show, the free performances staged in the courtyard off South Pioneer Street.

Changing the Green Show format while also altering the stage would be difficult, Nicholson said.

OSF will have two new leaders in its scene shop. It would be hard for new employees to cope with the chaos of a torn-up courtyard, he said.

With its varying slopes, the site also presents design challenges, Nicholson said.

The worn, cracked and uneven bricks were laid over course, sandy soil about 35 years ago. The bricks and soil will be excavated to make way for a crushed rock base covered in a layer of sand. The new bricks will have better traction, said Greg Covey of Ashland and Mount Shasta-based Covey Pardee Landscape Architects.

Covey created abstract, 3-D computer images to give the OSF board of directors a preliminary look at the courtyard redesign. The images do not show the color of the brick or the finished details of the project, he cautioned.

Covey said he wants the design to complement surrounding buildings and reflect OSF's history.

"We want it to look like its always been there, but infuse new vibrancy into the space," he said.

Under the plan, raised planters will divide the courtyard from the street, new steps will be equipped with handrails and low brick-faced walls with concrete tops will provide seating for Green Show performances. The lawn in the courtyard will remain, Covey said.

He said he is working with Rauch to fine-tune a flexible design for a new Green Show stage so it can accommodate a variety of performances.

The current stage was built about a dozen years ago by OSF staff members as a temporary structure. Parts of it are wearing out and rotting, Covey said.

To meet city codes, the brick sidewalk next to South Pioneer Street will be replaced with concrete. A new concrete sidewalk will pass through the courtyard near the administrative office and members' lounge.

Several community members have suggested sandblasting or coating the existing bricks to create better traction. That approach would be cheaper than spending the estimated $500,000-plus to redo the courtyard.

But Covey said that wouldn't fix the problem of different slopes in the courtyard.

"One of the issues we're trying to correct is the excessive slope," he said. "Just sandblasting the bricks would leave the steep slopes. The slopes will still be slippery if there's rain, leaves or ice. There are also a lot of broken bricks."

One of the trickiest areas for people with impaired mobility to navigate is the dipping slope in front of the box-office window.

Nicholson said the box office will be moved across the street to the bottom area of Carpenter Hall, where it can be wheelchair-accessible and protected from the elements.

The city of Ashland leases the courtyard property to OSF.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said the city would not be liable if someone sued the city from falling on the bricks. OSF would be liable because the lease puts the liability on OSF, she said.

The Ashland City Council voted in March to send OSF a letter, saying it is a priority to complete the work before the start of the next season in spring 2008.

Nicholson briefed city councilors about the one-year delay of the project earlier this month.

Councilor Alice Hardesty said she remains concerned about the safety of the bricks, while Councilor Eric Navickas encouraged Covey and Nicholson to use rough-cut bricks with an abrasive surface to improve traction.

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