Downing St. on its way to renewed purpose as a pedestrian plaza

Summertime, and the living is … noisy.

Those working on and around campus these warm days are getting used to the sounds of backhoes and jackhammers as crews transform Downing Street into a pedestrian plaza, and connect the Sanford and Johnson residence halls. The hydraulic song of construction is also being heard at the Kneller Center, where the gym floors are being refinished and the bleachers replaced.

On top of it all, Clark’s work comes on the heels of the City of Worcester’s major sewer-replacement and repaving project on the streets surrounding the University.

Last December, the Worcester City Council authorized the abandonment of the portion of Downing Street that runs from Woodland Street to Florence Street, enabling the city to fulfill its end of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement it reached with Clark in September 2010.

Get a look at the Downing Street construction project’s progress on Flickr.

Downing Street has long been deemed a safety concern, especially in the area under construction — which was notorious for the number of cars speeding barreling over the rise toward Main Street. An artist’s drawing of the pedestrian plaza shows a curved red-brick walkway centered with a grass island where people can gather and stroll, without having to look both ways.

Clark closed the road section the day after it was officially abandoned. Construction crews descended in the days following commencement to begin tearing up the street.

An artist's rendering of the completed Sanford-Johnson construction, as viewed from the Fuller quad.

The Sanford-Johnson project will link the two residence halls while adding 10,000 square feet of common space.

“It will be a lot more inviting — brighter and open,” says Director of Physical Plant Michael Dawley. “This will be a fun space.” Among the new features will be media rooms, lounges, a laundry area and a small patio. A re-do of the Fuller Quad and the addition of an elevator are also included in the renovations.

Dawley says both projects are on schedule to meet their August 15 deadline. Work is being done by Consigli Construction.

Two of the Kneller’s three courts are being refinished, and the third will be replaced, Dawley says. New bleachers will be installed and the pinewood from the 1970s-era bleachers has been donated to the Worcester Public Schools for use in shop and carpentry classes.

One other area of the campus getting a facelift is The Bistro in the Higgins University Center. Demolition work begins this week on the popular eatery as it undergoes a redesign that will add stations and reengineer the flow for diners (the square footage will not change). New furniture and a sushi bar will be among the more notable elements of change.