] PEC restores historic look while upgrading Topeka's Clay Street - PEC - Professional Engineering Consultants
Meet PEC


Back To All PEC News

PEC restores historic look while upgrading Topeka’s Clay Street

Pec Featured Project Clay Street 1bike
How do you upgrade a 100-year-old neighborhood street and preserve its historic appearance?

Brick by Brick

The brick at Southwest Clay Street was paved over decades ago in Topeka’s historic neighborhood. PEC worked with the City and contractor to resurrect the rustic aesthetic of the street using the original brick while solving drainage problems, preserving mature trees, meeting ADA standards and reducing life cycle maintenance costs with minimal disruption to the neighborhood.

  • Public Involvement
  • Historic Restoration
  • Finished Ahead of Schedule
  • Permeable Layer Manages Runoff
  • Innovative Brick Design Saves Money
  • Accommodates School+Emergency Traffic
Historic Features Perform to Modern Standards
A Topeka First

SW Clay Street is located in an older part of the City of Topeka, Kansas. The street was originally paved more than 100 years ago with two layers of brick, but the street had long since been overlaid with asphalt. During the early stages of design for the SW Clay Street project, the City of Topeka staff and the PEC design team reached out to the neighborhood community.

“We found the Topeka residents wanted to honor the past and we had to find the best way to accomplish it,” said PEC’s Project Manager Michael Stewart. This is the kind of challenge engineers love to work on. “We totally nerded-out on researching the design and materials that would maintain the historical look but would perform to modern roadway standards.”

Preserving the historical brick of the street consisted of one layer of recycled street brick on a concrete base. The existing street bricks, as well as a stock pile of recycled bricks, were used in the new pavement to give it a rustic look and feel.

“Replacing the overlaid brick with a modern brick pavement was the first of its kind of project for the City of Topeka,” Stewart said. “The process did not come without challenges.”

The improvements needed to manage stormwater runoff, accommodate schools and update the utilities for the neighborhood. The unique design did that and more. The team’s ingenuity and hard work paid off. The project won the Public Works Project of the Year for Historic Restoration/Preservation by the American Public Works Association Kansas Chapter.

Managing Runoff

With a concrete base below the single layer of bricks, storm water runoff would be trapped between the bricks and concrete. A permeable material was placed between the concrete base and concrete curb. With the addition of an underdrain system, runoff that seeps through the brick layer is collected within the storm sewer system.

Since Clay Street from 6th Street to 10th Streetis located in an older neighborhood, the storm sewer and sanitary sewer were combined. It was critical to separate the systems.

“By separating the storm sewer from the sanitary sewer, the system was not only updated to comply with current health and environmental requirements, it improved the drainage throughout the area,” Stewart said.

The new separate storm sewer and the drainable base system beneath the pavement greatly increased the draining in flat areas that were previously occupied by standing water and assisted in eliminating street flooding during heavy rains.

More Bang for the Buck
Making the Most of Constituent Dollars

This project was funded entirely by the City of Topeka through careful budgeting of the resources of several city departments. That meant adding value to every dollar spent was optimal. The original project goals involved replacing the deteriorating street, providing new curb and gutter, upgrading the water main in the project area, and repairing broken sidewalks and ramps to bring the area into compliance with ADA regulations. The new roadway does that and more.

The separated storm sewer line serves a major portion of the central part of the city. The surrounding area remains on a combined sewer system. The storm sewer trunk line installed along SW Clay Street provides a successful example and demonstrated pathway for additional sewer separation projects.

In order to achieve the most economical project, the City and PEC worked together to evaluate the cost associated with brick pavement in lieu of asphalt pavement. While the city was aware of the increased cost the use of brick would add, a savings could be accomplished by using the two layers of existing Clay Street brick rather than locating and purchasing acceptable stockpiled recycled street brick.

“We designed the street with one layer of brick with a concrete pavement base to provide a solid, durable brick street structure,” said Stewart. “The design life of this hybrid brick/concrete street should exceed the 25-year design life of a traditional asphalt street, providing additional savings in terms of life cycle cost.”

With no way of knowing how much of the existing Clay Street brick would be acceptable to use in the construction of the new street, the city and PEC bid the project with half the pavement being placed with existing Clay Street brick and half being purchased stockpiled recycled brick. Since the contractor carefully removed the existing brick street layers, 80 percent of the new brick pavement used existing Clay Street brick. This resulted in more than $220,000 savings for the City of Topeka.

Good Neighbor Policy


Accommodating Schools and Emergency Vehicles

Clay Street is located in an older part of town, adjacent to numerous historical districts including Topeka High School. City officials, PEC and Bettis worked together to complete the job in sections, so not more than one block was closed at a time. The project team’s careful planning paid off as the street opened to traffic two weeks ahead of schedule.

The project phasing plans were established to assure adjacent intersections along Clay Street were not closed concurrently. This decreased the inconvenience for residents, provided access to Cair Paravel Latin and Mater Dei Catholic Schools, accommodated Topeka High School traffic, and allowed emergency services routes during construction for Fire Station No. 4 situated on Clay Street.

“Construction had to accommodate two different schools and their different schedules,” said Stewart. “The project also had to be split in the middle of the 800 block of SW Clay to maintain access for the Topeka Fire Department at Fire Station No. 4.”

Project schedule and construction management for this project was critical. A detailed construction sequencing and traffic control plan was developed as part of the design and was closely adhered to by the contractor. During construction, traffic control plans allowed for student pickup and dropoff at both school locations.

The city held public meetings to inform neighbors of the planned work schedule and to give access to city officials and PEC engineers to answer questions. The project team also set a plan for continually updating the neighborhood on when and how they would be impacted during construction.

When concerns were raised by the owners about access from the homes to the street, the city and PEC incorporated the replacement of all courtesy walks for each property. Because the school traffic was also a major concern for the neighborhood community, construction was scheduled in front of the schools while school was out during the summer session.

“Our team decided that a two-year construction schedule would be best in this situation so that each block could be closed for construction while maintaining traffic in all other blocks,” said Stewart.

Minimizing traffic concerns

The team also came up with other methods to minimize traffic concerns:

  • The project phasing plans were established to assure adjacent intersections along Clay Street were not closed concurrently.
  • A detailed traffic control plan was developed and closely followed during construction.
  • Close coordination and updates with the Topeka Fire Department allowed access to Fire Station No. 4 and knowledge of which phase/block was closed.
  • Waterlines were installed with trenchless methods under 10th Street, 8th Street, and 6th Street to avoid traffic disruptions on the busiest streets.
  • The existing street grades were low but were maintained under tight tolerances to match existing driveways and tie-in points.
Roadway Stays Green


The project team found ways to be a good neighbor for the environment. The roadway was designed to limit tree removal. Storm sewers were placed directly behind the curb and gutter while the new water main was placed under the street to avoid disturbance around the very old and large trees. Removal of some trees was not completely unavoidable, but the project was constructed in a manner to retain the overall tree canopy. There were also a few trees removed at the request of homeowners.

The project team also paid special attention to erosion control details to assure non-permeable soil sediment would not clog and prevent the ability of the brick layer to drain. The addition of storm sewers and the improvement of the street directly impacts the quality of life in the neighborhood. This results in a more sustainable neighborhood, providing benefits to the entire Topeka community.

“The upgrade of the waterline enhances the general distribution system in the area providing improved looping, said Stewart. “This increases flow characteristics and reliability for a much greater area than just the length of the SW Clay Street project.”

The surrounding area remains on a combined sewer system, the storm sewer trunk line installed along SW Clay Street provides a successful example and demonstrated pathway for additional sewer separation projects.

The Clay Street project improvements serve as a pattern to rejuvenate an older portion of the City of Topeka. The new street, storm sewer, and water main demonstrates the city’s commitment to the properties in this area to preserve and sustain the neighborhood.

The City’s careful planning, PEC’s intricate designs and traffic plans, as well as the diligent work by the contractor provided a much-needed improvement for the City of Topeka. Accomplished with minimal disruption, at a cost savings and ahead of schedule, the Southwest Clay Street project improves and preserves Clay Street, which will benefit the neighborhood and the Topeka community for years to come.