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Zebulon's Courthouse Square Streetscape

Precision Planning, Inc. (PPI), Lawrenceville, Ga.
Stephen Kelly, Editor




The Pike County Courthouse in Zebulon was built in 1895 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse sidewalks, like the other sidewalks bordering the square, were replaced with 16” hexagonal pavers. The decorative 8-inch hexagonal pavers (foreground) with a 12-in. reinforced concrete border are traffic rated to provide a path across the sidewalk for maintenance vehicles.

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Pike County is a small community south of Metropolitan Atlanta with a mixture of rural farms and small subdivisions. Only an hour from the Atlanta airport, it has become a popular place for pilots and retired academics.

The county has grown significantly in the last 20 years because of good schools and the opportunity for a rural lifestyle. The city of Zebulon (pop. 1,228) and the county are named after Zebulon Pike Jr. (1779–1813), a hero of the War of 1812, explorer of the Louisiana Territory and “discoverer” of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, to which he humbly named after himself.

 




This is Thomaston Street (west side of the square) looking north and south (night shot). Twenty-one tapered, Hamilton, 12-ft. poles with 150-watt high-pressure sodium lamps have made the area safer and more active at night. Scarlet oaks, crepe myrtles are planted along Thomaston Street, in addition to smaller plantings of miscanthus, euonymous, yaupon holly, blue pacific junipers, knockout roses and dwarf abelias.

 

Pike County Courthouse
The Pike County Courthouse in Zebulon was built in 1895 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Courthouse Square has been the commercial, governmental and civic focus of the community for many years.
Residents have fond memories of shopping in the stores and enjoying time spent on the courthouse lawn.

The quaint charm of Zebulon’s downtown square was recognized by several motion picture locations scouts, who included the courthouse and surrounding spaces in “Murder in Coweta County” (1982), starring Andy Griffith and Johnny Cash, and “Tank” (1983), starring James Garner.

 




The corner, before and after: Trailer trucks, headed south on Thomaston (Hwy. 19) trying to make a left onto Barnesville Street, (Hwy. 18 east) often racked their back tires on the corner’s concrete steps (below). A separate grant was procured to renovate and sell the buildings to promote retail development on this southwest corner of the square. Concrete steps and a cheek wall were installed to protect the building foundation. The corner’s turning radius was improved by taking the existing turning lane and installing a 40-ft. radius curb and restriping the stop bar (before the crosswalk) to allow trucks to safely negotiate the corner. The Veteran’s Memorial (above, right) and the extensive landscaping in the bumpout includes scarlet oaks, liriope spicata, variegated liriope, scarlet oaks and knock out roses.


By the 1990s, Zebulon’s iconic Courthouse Square had become run down. The 1980s widening of the state highway passing through town dramatically increased the speed and volume of traffic moving through the square, which made parking and shopping more difficult. The only lights on the square were overhead cobra head fixtures, so the square was difficult to walk around after dark, and consequently the remaining shops and businesses closed by 6 p.m.

The sidewalks serving the shops and stores were not improved in conjunction with the highway widening. There remained a mishmash of concrete and thin hexagonal pavers. The lack of sidewalk maintenance had created several trip hazards. There were also no ADA accessible ramps in the square. Those pushing strollers or wheelchairs had to negotiate three steep stairs on two sides of the square, and only one entrance of the courthouse grounds was accessible. The western block of the square, Thomaston Street, had been allowed to decline to the point that three buildings were missing roofs and in danger of collapsing. The steps adjacent to the corner of Thomaston and Barnesville Street had been hit by trucks so often that they had disintegrated and were a hazard to vehicles and pedestrians.

 




AFTER

 




BEFORE
The before and after images look west on the south side of Courthouse Square (Barnesville Street), Zebulon’s main commercial block. The two-story building at the end of the block was built in the 1830s.

 

A Chance to Make a Difference
The potential to improve the square started in 1999 when the Pike County Board of Commissioners purchased the west side of the square with the intent to develop the block as a future government annex. Around the same time a group of concerned citizens worked with Zebulon and Pike County to develop a Pike 2020 planning study, which outlined the vision for the community. One of the targeted projects was the improvement of Courthouse Square, because the vast majority of the persons involved in the project and the citizenry wanted the square to remain the civic and cultural hub of the county. At the same time, the city of Zebulon reactivated its Downtown Development Authority, a quasi-governmental body that could secure and improve properties within downtown Zebulon. The DDA entered into negotiations with the board of commissioners over the buildings on the west side of the square, and were able to secure an agreement to purchase the buildings and find funding to renovate the buildings.

 




The difference between sidewalk elevation and the pavement at this same block’s intersection was accommodated by a bump out. A parking space was sacrificed to meet ADA requirements. Stormwater from one end of the block had to be diverted to a middle low point and directed back towards the street into a hooded catch basin. Plant materials here include crepe myrtles, scarlet oaks, knockout roses, liriope, day lilies, dwarf yaupon holly and mondo grass.

 

Federal Funds Make the Vision Closer to Reality
The city of Zebulon applied for, and was awarded $410,000 in Federal Transportation Enhancement (TEE) funds in April 2004 to improve Courthouse Square and the adjacent block of Barnesville Street. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) administers these funds in Georgia. Zebulon and the Pike County Board of Commissioners provided the local matching funds for the improvements. The city was also able to secure an additional $144,000 in TEE funds in mid-2005 to include Thomaston Street and Griffin Streets, the east and west sides of the square.

 




Barnesville Street, looking east, had a dilapidated hardscape and any number of trip hazards. The design intent was to replicate the historical large hexagonal pavers for the sidewalks. This was accomplished using 16-in. hex pavers (‘Prest’ series, ‘Tudor’ finish, Hanover Architectural Products) with a base color of limestone grey and cream color accents. Crepe myrtles “Biloxi” planted in tree grates (East Jordan Iron Works) provide some color and nature. Six-ft. aluminum benches and trash receptacles (DuMor) are among the site amenities.



Challenges and Opportunities
Zebulon and the Downtown Development Authority selected the team of Precision Planning, Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Sell and Associates, Inc. of Milner, Ga., as project consultants. Precision Planning was DOT-prequalified for landscape architecture civil engineering, and was established as the lead designer. Sell and Associates developed the initial concept plan for the landscape and hardscape improvements to the square and was a local firm, so the two firms developed a collaborative effort. Precision Planning and Sell and Associates worked from mid-2004 to mid-2006 developing the detailed construction plans, coordinating with utilities, obtaining the necessary environmental clearances and state and federal approvals.

During the middle of the design phase, a challenge arose. Trucks had difficulty making a right-hand turn onto Barnesville Street. GDOT was approached with the problem. One possible solution was acquiring a portion of one of the buildings and installing a 70-ft radius turning lane. The concern was that such an accommodation would cause the loss of a building and furthered the impression that Zebulon was not a pedestrian-friendly city. A public meeting was held and the design team was able to work out a solution with GDOT. The corner’s turning radius for trucks was improved by commandeering an existing turning lane, installing a 40’ radius curb and cheek wall to protect the corner of the building and re-striping the stop bar to allow trucks to safely negotiate the corner.

 




AFTER:
The new hex pavers at the same location are thicker and more resistant to breakage. A bike rack (MadRax ‘Winder Plus’) was installed for customer use. Landscape improvements included a dogwood ‘milky way’, oak leaf hydrangea, camellias, yaupon holly, dwarf abelias and liriope.

 




BEFORE:
Pavers on the north side of the courthouse grounds were broken during renovations back in 1998. The misaligned concrete edging dated back to the 1930s.

 

 

A Vision Realized
After receiving final approvals from GDOT, the city of Zebulon solicited bids for the project in 2006 and selected JHC Corporation of Peachtree City, Ga. to build the improvements. JHC had built several small town streetscapes and understood the complexities of working with elevation differences, questionable subsurface conditions in a heavily trafficked area and maintaining open access to businesses. One of the first challenges was that JHC’s bid exceeded the available funds, and GDOT regulations prohibited direct negotiations between the contractor and the city to value-engineer the project. Precision Planning provided an informal channel to adjust the bid and bring the project into budget. Throughout construction, the contractor and engineers/landscape architects worked closely to keep the project within the budget. The Zebulon DDA acted as the community liaison on the project and produced newsletters letting the downtown merchants and other community members know the progress of the construction.

 




This is a view of the southeast corner of Courthouse Square looking north at the Pike County Courthouse. The courthouse grounds had pecan and magnolia trees over 100 years old at the time of the project, and also some younger trees that were diseased. A forestry consultant supervised selective pruning of the pecan trees and removed diseased trees.

 

Hardscapes
Revitalizing the streetscape included overcoming the drainage patterns around the square and the elevation differences between the doors, sidewalks and curbs. The contractor removed a turning lane on Thomaston Street, pushed the curb out 12 feet and used a planting area to make the grade differential between the shops and the top of curb, using the slope of the street to make an accessible route from the street to the storefronts. Concrete stairs were built into a cheek wall that protected the foundation of one of the buildings. Sixteen-inch hexagonal pavers (Hanover Architectural Products) were selected to duplicate the historic pavers around the square and on the courthouse grounds. The team also designed four heavy-duty paver sections on the courthouse grounds for service vehicles to use while performing maintenance. The heavy-duty sections were laid out with 8-inch hex pavers in a pattern that mimics the ventilation grilles on the courthouse clock tower. The existing granite curbing and steps were removed, cleaned and replaced to make a knee wall on the south side of the courthouse grounds and the adjoining Veteran’s Memorial.

Lighting and Site Amenities
The addition of 21 new light fixtures allows pedestrians to enjoy the square after dark and be more visible to traffic.

On-street parking was maintained after significant negotiations with GDOT. Site amenities of benches, trash cans and bike racks were added throughout the project.

 




Griffin Street, looking north on the east side of the square, was a challenge because of significant runoff from private parking lots. The driveways were regraded to better accommodate the drainage, and additional storm structures installed at the end of the block.

 

Landscapes
An ambitious landscape plan was prepared to incorporate the existing 100-year old trees on the courthouse lawn, while also adding new trees and shrubs. The four walkways to the courthouse were framed with scarlet oaks and southern red oaks, as well as shrubs and groundcover. The existing plant material adjacent to the courthouse was removed, with the exception of two ancient camellias, which were left at the insistence of courthouse employees.

Scarlet oaks were also planted on the corners of the square in bump outs, which are watered through an irrigation system installed during construction. Crepe myrtles (‘Biloxi’) were added on Barnesville Street and Thomaston Street in tree grates, as well as knockout roses, white empress camellias, yaupon holly and Indian Hawthorne, among other plantings. Civic volunteers now maintain these plantings that have brought much beauty to the square.

Life Where There Was No Life (After Dark)
The city of Zebulon, Pike County and the Zebulon DDA held a dedication ceremony on April 20, 2007, before a tremendous crowd. Musicians were present and children enjoyed playing in the straw that was still left over from the mulching of the new courthouse lawn. Everybody enjoyed the soft glow of the pedestrian lights around the square, paid for by donations from area citizens.

With the completion of the west side building renovation project, locals now can enjoy a great bookstore, get a meal and play trivia at HJ Wings and Things, visit the Chamber of Commerce, or shop in a consignment boutique. Zebulon now has nightlife on the square, as evidenced by the numerous cars along the street after dark. The city is preparing to extend the downtown streetscape into adjacent blocks with the second and third phases of the streetscape project, so stay tuned!

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The Zebulon Square Team
Prime Designer: Precision Planning, Inc., Lawrenceville, Ga.
Landscape/Local Consultant: Sell & Associates, Milner, Ga.
Lighting Design: Georgia Power Lighting Services


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December 10, 2019, 6:55 pm PDT

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