Northfield span fans keep trying Tuesday, March 27, 2007 By DAVID A. VALLETTE for the Republican firstname.lastname@example.org NORTHFIELD - The Friends of Schell Bridge have prepared a draft plan for rehabilitating the more than 100-year-old structure that the state plans to demolish.
"It would be tragic to see it dropped into the river," the group said.
New York financier Francis Schell gave the town $60,000 to build the bridge over the Connecticut River in 1901. It opened in 1903.
Schell wanted to provide a connection between the town's train station in West Northfield to East Northfield on the other side of the river, where most of the town's development was occurring, and where he had built a "chateau" for his summer holidays.
Eventually, because of the cost, the town lost the struggle to keep the span in good repair. A 1984 inspection found below-water problems with the pilings, and the decision was made to close the bridge in 1985.
In 1987, a vote by Town Meeting authorized the state Highway Department to demolish the bridge. After years of delay, the state announced in December the demolition is near, perhaps by the end of this year, at an expected cost of $1.3 million.
The plan involves dropping the bridge into the river and dismantling it under water, rather than taking it apart in place, which is considered more dangerous, said Erik Abell, department spokesman.
The Friends want to use the bridge for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and create parks at each end.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish," Marie B. Ferre, a member of the Friends' board of directors, told residents who turned out for the draft plan presentation Sunday night. It was a biblical quote from Proverbs, she said.
Their task is not seen as easy.
"This is going to be a 10- or 20-year thing, I think," said Susan P. Ross, also on the board.
The state has advised that it can pay to demolish but not rehabilitate the bridge, so finding the money is one of the challenges. The state estimates the rehab cost at $25 million, although the Friends have been in contact with engineers and have gotten preliminary cost projections of as low as $10 million.
Another obstacle is the 1987 demolition vote. The group is trying to get an article on this year's annual warrant, for Town Meeting in May, calling for rescinding the vote.
Attempts to get the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places, giving it a stature that would help raise funding, have met a snag. The Board of Selectmen recently voted 3 to 0 not to sign the application for the register.
Selectman Bonnie L'Etoile said the board, despite whatever personal feelings each member had, was obligated by the 1987 Town Meeting vote to seek demolition, and not back attempts to thwart Town Meeting.
The group also will be holding a series of public forums, guided by an engineering design firm, leading to a presentation in June at the Friends' annual meeting.
On April 28, from 9 a.m. to noon, a volunteer cleanup is planned for the area on the east end of the bridge, primarily to remove brush. Volunteers will gather on East Northfield Road near Revell Hall on the campus belonging to Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Friends of Schell Bridge a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation ¦ P.O. Box 27, Northfield, MA 01360 ¦ info@SchellBridge.org