Discussion of Schell Bridge replacement on Thursday
NORTHFIELD — There’s a lot to talk about at the Friends of Schell Bridge’s annual meeting Thursday.
The topic will be the proposed demolition of the Schell Memorial Bridge.
Though Friends has lobbied to have the bridge repaired since the group formed in 2004, members were excited to hear that the state plans to move forward with the bridge’s demolition.
That’s because the plan includes building a new bridge.
The state Department of Transportation announced this May that it would seek federal funding to demolish the aging structure and replace it with a bike and pedestrian bridge. Those plans were introduced by the DOT’s District 2 office, and have recently been approved by the higher-ups in Boston. Now, the DOT will try to place the project on the five-year transportation improvement plan.
The proposed recreational river crossing would be designed as an homage to the 515-foot steel cantilever truss bridge donated to the town by wealthy summer resident Francis Schell in 1904.
From 1904 to 1985, the bridge gave residents a second way to travel between the east and west sides of Northfield, the only Massachusetts town that straddles the Connecticut River.
In 1985, the bridge had fallen into such disrepair that it was deemed unfit for use. The state DOT came up with a plan to rehabilitate the bridge, but the costly repairs were never made, and, in 1987, the bridge was put on the list for demolition.
However, the state never demolished the bridge and the Friends of Schell Bridge continued to garner support for its rehabilitation. In 2011, a report put together by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and funded by the Friends detailed the possible benefits of repairing the bridge for use by pedestrians and bicyclists. It cited a possible $15 million benefit to the area over 10 years, between what would be spent to rehabilitate the bridge and an annual $843,137 in possible tourist revenue.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, told the Northfield Selectboard that, if possible, parts from the old bridge would be used in the new construction, or in a nearby riverside park.
The bridge itself will be based on the North Bridge Bikeway in Keene, N.H., which was inspired by the Schell Bridge itself.
The panel will include Rosenberg, State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Northfield Selectboard Chairman John “Jack” Spanbauer, local bicyclist and Friends member Peter Talmage and Carl Goldknopf, an engineer who worked on the North Bridge Bikeway in Keene, N.H. It will be moderated by John Mullin, director of the UMass Center for Economic Development. Topics will include how Northfield could prepare for the bridge’s opening and the role that nonprofit groups like the Friends can play in the project.
The annual meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in Green Trees Gallery, 105 Main St., with a social half-hour during which coffee and apple crisp will be served. The group will hold a short business meeting at 8 p.m., then launch into a panel discussion at 8:30.