State: Schell Bridge replacement to start in 2021

  • Richard Masse, project development engineer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, speaks about the next steps toward replacing the Schell Memorial Bridge during a presentation Thursday at Northfield Elementary School. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Local residents listen as Richard Lenox, vice president of transportation and infrastructure with construction design firm WSP, talks about the cost of replacing Schell Memorial Bridge. The presentation took place Thursday night at Northfield Elementary School. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

Recorder Staff
Thursday, October 13, 2016

NORTHFIELD — For $16.3 million, Northfield residents could see construction of a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge commence in fiscal year 2021.

By contrast, rehabilitating it would cost nearly $39 million.

The new bridge would replace the historic Schell Memorial Bridge, which was closed in 1985 because it had deteriorated too far for safe use. Replacing or repairing the bridge has been a topic of importance to many residents, who showed up to hear about the construction project during a presentation Thursday.

State Senate President Stan Rosenberg, state Rep. Paul Mark, Project Development Engineer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Richard Masse and Richard Lenox, vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the construction design firm WSP, spoke about the project before about 50 local residents. The presentation was held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Northfield Elementary School.

“We try to do this once a year to let the community understand the progress that’s being made,” Rosenberg said of the event. “We’re very happy that MassDOT was thinking outside the box because things were looking dismal for a while.”

Since the bridge was closed, there have been plans to rehabilitate the bridge, followed by plans to tear it down. Masse and Lenox explained what rehabilitating the bridge would require versus replacing it, which is the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s recommendation based on the cost.

Rehabilitating the bridge would require it being taken down in sections, replacing the timber deck, railings and steel flooring stringers, and cleaning and painting the whole structure before reinstalling it. Though Lenox said the abutments appear to be in good shape, and could be reused, the piers would also need to be replaced.

What comes next

The next steps now, Lenox said, are to select the type of bridge, develop preliminary and final designs and, come 2021, solicit construction bids. While the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will make the final decision concerning the bridge’s design, Lenox noted that residents will be able to give their input during public forums, which Rosenberg said will start next spring.

Being able to provide feedback on the new bridge’s aesthetic features proved to be important to residents.

“I think the town really mourns the loss of something like (the Schell Memorial Bridge),” Northfield Historical Society President Susan Ross said. “It really matters to us. We live here, we’re going to use the bridge more than anyone else, and I think we’d like to have some input.”

Ross added that it would be nice to honor the former bridge and build a new bridge similar in appearance.

Once the bridge is built, the Department of Conservation and Recreation will oversee maintenance and inspection. Masse said maintenance vehicles would be supported, but the bridge couldn’t be routinely crossed by emergency vehicles.

Rosenberg emphasized how much progress has been made.

“2021 seems like a long time from now, except that this conversation started 40 years ago,” Rosenberg said.

“This would never, ever happen without Stan Rosenberg,” Northfield resident Bill McGee said, adding that the residents will come back in the spring with suggestions for the bridge design. “I think they really want to work with us.”

However, some members of the audience, such as Keene, N.H., resident Steve Lindsey, felt the speakers could do more to respect the town’s history, traditions and culture.

“They presented us with a binary choice,” Lindsey, a former New Hampshire representative, said. “They hadn’t really explored heritage funding … I’m not a resident of this town, but I’m a resident of this nation, and this bridge is part of our nation’s civil engineering heritage.”