With apologies to Al Gore, here's an inconvenient truth: There is no such thing as progress without inconvenience.
It didn't take very long to inconvenience students who use the footbridge across Dry Creek to reach Downey High or La Loma Junior High in Modesto once construction began on Pamela Monterosso Park, where Coffee Road meets Scenic Drive.
Cyclone fencing went up two weeks ago. A backhoe began moving dirt for the park, which will include extensive landscaping, restrooms, an information kiosk, a pedestrian trail, picnic tables, benches and a parking area.
At some point, this chunk of blight that makes you wonder why they call the street "Scenic" will be eye-catching and much safer. A new, well-lit pathway will lead visitors down to the bridge spanning Dry Creek into Dry Creek Regional Park. But not for a while, and certainly not by midsummer, as planned.
The city suspended construction this week, after the backhoe tore out part of the original paved trail. City crews will clean up the construction debris, the temporary fencing will come down and the area will be reopened to pedestrians Monday or Tuesday, said Julie Hannon, deputy director of the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department.
Why the delay? Two reasons, one of which is that Modesto needs to solidify its financing before proceeding with construction. Federal and state grants will cover most of Monterosso Park's $700,000 construction cost.
The other is because the closure inconveniences far more people, students in particular, than the city or the contractor anticipated.
"We didn't realize how many students go from one side to the other," Hannon said.
That, even though during a pre-construction meeting at the site a couple of weeks ago, more than a dozen students crossed the bridge while city and construction officials went over the game plan.
Jared Bean, project superintendent for Sunworld Landscape, said that after spending hours at the site one day, he suspects at least 100 people use the bridge daily.
Some students said they understand the need to improve safety and beautify the area, but wondered why the city couldn't wait until the summer -- after the school year ended -- to do the work. That is now the plan, with construction to resume in late May or early June. There should be no more than about a week of overlap for students, Hannon said.
Hannon said she received several complaints from parents who said they knew nothing about the closure. It forced their children to walk significantly longer distances and through less desirable areas to get to school and back.
"The contractor didn't do a very good job of notifying the public," Hannon said.
Bean said the city specifically required Sunworld to notify residents or businesses within 500 feet of the project, which it did.
"We contacted neighbors, and we told people who came through the park, 'Hey, just so you know, in two days' time ... ' " Bean said. "Not everybody reads the paper. I could have an airplane flying around pulling a sign, and somebody's not going to see it."
But they notified only those on the north side of Dry Creek. Michael Moradian, president of the La Loma Neighborhood Association, south of Dry Creek, had no idea until Thursday that the city had closed the area. Many of the people who use the bridge live in the La Loma neighborhood. Had he known earlier, the organization could have posted the information on the its Web site.
"To close it down completely seems silly to me, but I don't know all the details," Moradian said. "There's got to be a path (around the construction area)."
One mom told me she learned about the closure last week, when her son arrived home from school 45 minutes later than usual. He had to walk west to Moose Park and use another footbridge to Kewin Park to reach his La Loma area home. Those parks are frequented by homeless people, drug abusers and others, she said, who make the area "not a good place for kids to be walking by. I don't want kids to be introduced to anything like that."
Some students weren't inconvenienced. With construction idle Thursday, two 15-year-old Downey High sophomores went through an opening in the fence at Monterosso Park. Jordan Urie and Andrew Smith ambled down to the creek and crossed the bridge. They had no problem getting through the cyclone gate intended to block bridge access from the Dry Creek Regional Park side. Someone took a pair of wire cutters to it, creating a large doorway of sorts.
Teens' preferred route
The teens said they'd rather take their chances cutting through the closed-off park than going through Moose Park again, where Jordan said he and his girlfriend recently encountered an aggressive transient. "We gave him $4 and he left us alone," he said.
The city and the contractor understand the need to minimize the inconvenience when construction resumes. They are looking, as Moradian suggests, to create a temporary path around the job site. Bean said the new pedestrian path could reopen the minute the grading, utility and concrete work is complete. Landscapers can work around the foot traffic, he said.
Granted, it's virtually impossible to build any kind of public works project without inconveniencing someone. The Gallo Center for the Arts and the district attorney's new digs, two blocks apart downtown on I Street, caused traffic and parking headaches for months during their construction. And if voters ever pass the half-cent sales tax to rebuild or repair streets and roads in Stanislaus County, drivers no doubt will complain about delays and detours despite knowing the long-term gains would outweigh the short-term pains.
In the case of Pamela Monterosso Park, though, the inconvenient truth applied to the city and the contractor -- not to the students:
Wait until school's out to build it.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.