Friends oppose bridge plans Sunday, December 03, 2006, Springfield Republican By DAVID A. VALLETTE email@example.com
NORTHFIELD - The state Highway Department is moving ahead with its plan to dismantle and remove the historic Schell Bridge from the Connecticut River, a department spokesman said earlier this week.
It has been nine years since the town, which owns the span, gave the state authorization to take it down, and the removal will likely happen sometime in 2007, once the funding sources are identified, said Erik Abell, assistant press secretary.
"We're going to move forward with the demolition of the Schell Bridge," Abell said.
Trying to intercede in the project is the Friends of Schell Bridge, which intends to overturn the 1987 Town Meeting vote for demolition, find some other entity than the town to become the bridge's owner, then get the span rehabilitated for bicycle and pedestrian use, possibly adding small parks at each end.
"It's looking very positive," Maureen Spaulding, a co-founder and vice president of the Friends, said on Friday.
The Friends next meet on Tuesday, at 7 p.m., in the basement at Town Hall.
In 1987, when a vote gave the state demolition authority, the bridge, which connects the east and west parts of town, had been closed to traffic for two years and was reported to be in danger of imminent collapse. Those seeking to fix rather than destroy the bridge have pointed to the fact that nearly two decades after the vote, the span still stands.
The state's plan, which is estimated to cost about $1.3 million, said Abell, involves dropping the bridge into the river, rather than trying to dismantle it in place, which could be difficult and dangerous. By dropping it into the water, he said, it will be on the ground, albeit under water, where cranes can pull it out in sections.
The bridge is 512 feet long and 17 feet wide. It was built in 1903 and had its deck and stringers replaced in 1932 and some floor beams and railing replaced in 1960. It was in 1984 that an inspection found that its underwater pilings had become exposed, and a decision was made to close it the following year rather than do the repairs.
The bridge was built by Francis R. Schell to connect his home on the east side of the river to the railroad station on the west. Schell donated it to the town.
The state estimates it would take up to $25 million to fix the bridge, just to make it safe for bike and foot traffic.
At a public forum the state held in September, however, Michael Renaud, a contractor with a bridge rehabilitation history, said he had looked at the bridge and believes it could be fixed for safe use for under $10 million.
Abell said the highway department hopes to find a federal source for the $1.3 million demolition bill, but otherwise would tap state funds to get it done next year.
Spaulding said a petition will soon be delivered to the Board of Selectmen to get a new vote on the Town Meeting warrant, rescinding the prior demolition approval.