SM PIER — Construction began Thursday on a project to replace a large section of the Santa Monica Pier in an effort to preserve and maintain the historic structure.

The $8.5 million job involves the demolition and replacement of 365 feet of the pier between the high tide line and the concrete westerly portion of the pier.

That section is comprised of wood, and has been weakened to the point that it has difficulty accommodating emergency and commercial delivery vehicles, according to a city staff report.

It will be replaced with a new pier made of concrete piles and pile caps, timber stringers and timber decking.

City officials believe the construction project will take approximately one year. The pier will be open to visitors throughout construction, and crews will build a parallel trestle along the side of the pier to provide access even while construction crews do their work.

That was scant comfort for businesses, who hoped officials would schedule the work around the summer, their busiest season.

Crews will suspend work on weekends to avoid disrupting crowds more than usual, officials said.

Dana Wyatt, director of operations at Pacific Park, went to the City Council in January to lodge his complaints about the project.

Pacific Park is the pier’s largest tenant, and situated immediately adjacent to the work site. Still, the amusement park was not briefed on the matter until June 2012, just before the project went out to bid, Wyatt said at the time.

Other members of the pier business community were also disappointed with what they saw as a lack of communication about the effort.

Officials are working to change that, said Rod Merl, manager of the pier.

A meeting was scheduled this week to inform tenants about the construction, and they have a hotline to Curtis Castle, the city project manager, for the work that they can call any time, Merl said.

Next Thursday will mark the first of many weekly meetings between tenants and those involved in the construction, he said.

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