The most recent public discussion about how the bricks on the Charlottesville downtown mall should be repaired or replaced brought out a standing room only crowd at the city design space. The MMM consultants promoted the idea of replacing all of the bricks with new brick and placing them in sand rather than using mortar as the original bricks were installed. Apparently, MMM has determined that placing the bricks in sand is the current standard installation technique around the country. But, if we look at the recent brick and stone installed in sand at in the crosswalk at East High Street and Fourth Street NE, there is obvious damage to both bricks and stone due to automobile traffic.
This is already the second installation of these bricks. The first installation had significant settlement of the bricks and stone, and many of the brick and stone elements were chipped. But, the two photos of this crossing taken on July 5, 2008 show similar damage (but no further settlement). The stone pieces are loose and the sand between the stones and the bricks is no longer in the joints. Is this what we will see on the two vehicle crossings of the mall?
Another problem with the sand joints is evident in the sidewalk bricks by the Albemarle County Sheriff Office. The bricks have only been in place for a few months in the entrance to the Sally Port (where prisoners are loaded and unloaded behind the just installed steel gates), but the sand joints have lost most of the sand. And, in the sidewalk section near Jackson Park on East High Street, crab grass is growing in the joints.
I am curious what the difference in installation would be between these installations and that to be done for the hundreds of thousands of bricks proposed for the downtown mall. My guess is that there will be a significant maintenance requirement to keep the sand joints in good order. Is the sand installation better or worse than the mortar installation? I can't tell. The mortar installation on the mall lasted over 25 years with not much routine maintenance. Can sand installation really do better than that? Clearly the vehicle crossings won't do well if the installation is similar to the 'improved' installation at the pedestrian crossing at East High Street and Fourth Street NE.
I hope MMM and the city will make sure they consider if the problems shown in these photos will occur on the mall, too. Maybe repairing and replacing the mortar in the existing bricks is the best solution after all.