Businesses in downtown Athens are preparing for an influx of people on Saturday for the Notre Dame game. (File/Staff)

If you’ve been downtown lately, you might have noticed the construction crews and blocked parking spaces along Clayton Street working throughout the day Mondays through Thursdays. According to an Athens-Clarke County press release, these long work days have caused crews to be two weeks ahead of schedule.

The first phase of the renovations —the pre-dig phase— began June 18 when construction crews began digging trenches for the future stormwater system.

The pre-dig phase was divided into three blocks. Work on the first block, from South Lumpkin Street to College Avenue, was divided into the north side and south side. The south side was completed July 18, and the north side was completed Aug. 3, putting the crews about two weeks ahead of schedule, the release said.

“They are two weeks ahead because they didn’t find as many unmarked conflicts as they feared in the first block and it went smoothly,” said Jeff Montgomery, public information officer for ACC.

Weather and moving to the Friday morning schedule for repaving “helped save a few days” Montgomery said.

The second block, from College Avenue to North Jackson Street, will also be divided into north and south sides. The south side is projected to be worked on from Aug. 6 to Aug. 21, and the north side from Aug. 27 to Sept. 21.

Although construction crews have made a dent in the timeline, they may end up back on schedule.

“I should note that while we are ahead on [the first] block, some changes have been made to the south side of the [second] block, which will make the work on that side a little longer than originally scheduled,” Montgomery said, “so the net result may be closer to the original schedule.”

Their schedule depends on what crews encounter underground, Montgomery said, referring to it as the “x factor” as it can change things “for the better or worse.”

The third block from North Jackson Street to Thomas Street will take place from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25.

“After a successful pilot project, crews will continue [to] work full days on Thursdays and laying down asphalt to open the roads on Friday mornings for the second block,” according to the Athens-Clarke County website. Some parking spaces will be blocked on Thursday evenings.

There has been some controversy surrounding the renovations, largely from business owners on Clayton Street.

On. Feb 6, downtown business owners presented a petition with 37 signatures to the Mayor & Commission, lobbying for ACC to split up the construction timelines.

After the petition was submitted, breaks in the timeline were implemented, especially to work around football and holiday seasons, which are prime times for downtown businesses.

“What we’ve done here is we’ve broken it apart so that the businesses, the people that are going to be impacted the most, will still be able to serve their customers, and we can still do the construction in a reasonable amount of time,” said District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby at the June 5 Mayor & Commission meeting.

Staff members from the county will continue to visit businesses in the affected areas to provide maps and answer questions about the project, according to ACC.

To continue to hear from the public, ACC will hold two public meetings, allowing for input on the streetscape design phase of the East Clayton Street Improvement Project. An online survey will also be available for attendees to select “features important to them,” ACC’s website said.

Streetscape design amenities will include benches, bike racks and planters, which will be installed April 2019-August 2020.

The meetings will be held Aug. 9 from 2 to 4 p.m. and Aug. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. Both meetings will be in the Michael Bros. Building Mezzanine on East Clayton Street.

The entire project is expected to be completed by August 2020.

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