EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MANSFIELD -- City engineer Bob Bianchi has likely never been happier to see a 19th-century storm sewer line, even one that is badly damaged.
On Monday afternoon, after five days of searching, backhoes operated by workers from B.K. Layer of Perrysville struck gold, er, sandstone buried about 24 feet deep between houses in an area near Bowman and Third streets.
The successful hunt for the rectangular sandstone culvert, three feet high and two feet wide, sets the stage for fixing a problem that has kept Bowman Street between Third and Fourth streets closed for the last several weeks.
A reader asked Richland Source on July 20 when Bowman Street would re-open. Bianchi didn't have a firm answer on Tuesday, but it's likely still weeks away.
A broken water main under Bowman closed the street weeks ago, which the engineer believes likely occurred due to the storm water escaping the sandstone culvert.
City work crews repaired the break, but the stone material they put in around the line was washed away before the project was completed, according to Bianchi, who said it was a clear indication storm water was flowing where it should not be.
The engineer and his team found a schematic pencil drawing, likely from the 1870s, showing a storm sewer that begins around the Greek Orthodox Church on West Third Street and meanders its way west all the way to Touby Run.
"We have very little information on it, but we believed it to be this sandstone culvert that has collapsed somewhere," Bianchi said.
After a tree was moved, excavation began in earnest Monday, complicated by the fact houses are nearby in almost every direction. Around 2 p.m., more than two stories into the earth, the ancient tunnel was located.
"When we busted into the top, the hole began to fill with water," Bianchi said Tuesday morning. "So we needed to put a steel box into the pit so we can have crews go down into the hole."
Bianchi said the next step would be to pump out the water from the hole.
"We're going to send some camera equipment through it and try to determine where the tunnel has collapsed," he said. "Once we find the collapse, we will determine if repairs can be made.
"We don't know where the collapse is. It could be under a multitude of utilities that will make it very difficult. We may have to put in a bypass storm sewer that would serve as the new system and we would abandon the existing tunnel," he said.
Regardless of the ultimate decision, it will not be a cheap fix, according to the engineer.
Bianchi expressed respect for the original storm sewer work, which is likely celebrating its sesquicentennial.
"It's amazing what was built back in the 1800s in Mansfield that still exists and is in use today," he said. "This system is robust. It's stout.
"However, in this location, we have an unknown blockage or collapse. It's very interesting, but I am most excited about getting this problem solved and hopefully make an improvement to the ongoing problems we have had on Third Street," Bianchi said.
"We are actively working on it every day," he said.
The engineer said the emergency is another example of aging infrastructure in Mansfield, including century-old water mains.
"Mansfield is not alone in this regard," he said. "There are cities across the United States that have old infrastructure like this, that needs to be replaced and maintained.
"We hope we're taking the right steps and moving in the right direction to repair and replace these old systems."