Shoppers and diners walk downtown earlier this summer. Brunswick officials are considering the best material to replace Brunswick’s sidewalks: brick or brick and concrete? Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Should Brunswick’s downtown sidewalks be all brick or should there be a concrete walkway in the middle, surrounded by bricks on both sides? It seems like a simple enough question, but the answer is one that will determine the look and feel of Brunswick’s historic downtown district for possibly the next 50 years. Town officials are weighing the benefits — the cost, practicality, longevity, accessibility and aesthetics — of both before making any decisions.  

The Downtown Streetscape Enhancement Project, included in the town’s 2021-2025 capital improvement plan, aims to improve or replace the sidewalks, lighting, trees and landscaping in the heart of downtown fom the mall to the Route 1 overpass. A timeline for the project and how it might be phased is pending a final design, but Ryan Barnes, town engineer, said construction would start next fall at the earliest. 

Brunswick’s existing sidewalks, made up of precast concrete unit pavers, are in bad shape. According to a survey by Milone and MacBroom, the Portland-based engineering consulting firm hired for the project, 64% of respondents said the downtown was not accessible due to the condition of the sidewalks, the steps required to get into the stores and a lack of downtown parking. 

On Thursday, consultants presented a $2.8 million “hybrid” plan for the downtown sidewalks that would feature a wide concrete pedestrian walkway, surrounded by two brick corridors on either side for standing, sitting, dining and advertising. This, according to consultants, could solve some of the downtown accessibility issues while still maintaining the historic downtown aesthetic of the brick. 

The concrete walkway down the middle, the preference of the Downtown Streetscapes Committee and the Brunswick Downtown Association, is less expensive, safer than bricks, which have more potential for heaving and are slippery in the winter, easy to clear of snow, less disruptive to install, and are overall easier to repair. 

Claudia Knox, committee member, said that with Brunswick’s growing elder population, it only makes sense to have a surface that will be safe for everyone to use year-round, and that with the surrounding brick, there’s still plenty of “warm brick feeling.” 


Deb King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association, said she also supports the hybrid options because “it does reflect the historic nature with an abundance of brick” but has the added benefit of functionality and ease of maintenance. 

Stacy Frizzle, executive director of the Brunswick-area senior center People Plus, said in an interview Monday that People Plus has not been consulted on the project

“Any sort of irregular paving surfaces can be a tremendous hazard for older adults, especially after the winters here in Maine,” Frizzle said. “We generally try to use surfaces that are as level as possible and do not have the risk of becoming unbalanced.” 

“If we did go with brick, it would be fine for a while,” King said, but there’s no way to know they would not settle or become dangerous. The hybrid is “functional, attractive and would work well in our downtown.” 

Councilors though, seem to be leaning away from the hybrid option, and instead favor an all-brick downtown, which consultants suggest may not be quite as risky as it sounds. 

Both options would feature the brick in a herringbone pattern, which David Dickinson, landscape architect, said is the tightest weave available and will make it harder for roots, water or cold to disrupt the sidewalk.


Both options also include special soils that encourage tree roots to stay put and grow where they are supposed to instead of gravitating toward the brick, again, decreasing the risk of the ground being uneven. 

In order for the brick option to be successful and not sink, the town will have to put in a concrete base layer below the bricks, which will drive up the cost, the length of the project and the level of disruption to local businesses, though town officials say businesses will not have to close during that time. 

Brick is less likely to stain, so cleaning would be less expensive, and there is more tactile surfacing available now than there used to be, which can make bricks less slippery in the winter. It also increases the historic downtown feel that officials and residents say they are seeking. 

The all-brick downtown will carry a price tag of around $3.5 to $3.8 million, but would also last an estimated 60 years, compared to the estimated 40-year life expectancy of the concrete in the hybrid model. 

“For a 60-plus year investment, I think the $700,000 to $1 million increase is worth investing in our downtown district,” Councilor Stephen Walker said. 

“I can only think of a handful of topics where I’ve gotten this much citizen feedback and 100% has been on one side,” in favor of all brick, he added. “That’s striking to me.” 


Walker told councilors that the information presented Thursday alleviated his concerns about elderly residents tripping over the sidewalks and that he didn’t think it would be a problem. 

“We’re about to lose the green bridge, we’ve torn downtown hall, we’ve lost a lot of history in this town,” he said. “I will not support any option that is not an all brick option.” 

Councilor Dan Ankeles agreed. 

“Sense of place is an important criteria for this town,” he said, cautioning against making a decision based on how inconvenient it might be to fix or install. Instead, the main consideration “should be is this appropriate for Brunswick’s sense of place and can we do it safely?” he said.

“If you are willing to put in the time and the resources, we can get all benefits and safety features of the concrete with brick,” Ankeles said. “This is the sort of thing that makes our downtown so desirable and we haven’t even talked about the economic impact of that added desirability by being faithful to history.”

“This is one of those decisions that councils make that will have decades of ramifications,” Councilor James Mason said, voicing his “inclination toward brick.” 

If the town can minimize the safety concerns and still have the more aesthetically pleasing option that will likely last longer, “I’m not that troubled by (the cost),” he said. 

Despite councilors’ preference for brick, there is still significant work and public input to be had before anything is finalized, and officials have requested more information about cost and maintenance among other considerations. 

The next meeting date has not been set.

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