VELVA A historic bridge that's been showing signs of its age could soon be getting a major facelift, thanks to efforts of local residents to save it.
Between funding programs available to the State Historical Society and North Dakota Department of Transportation, the bridge is eligible for as much as $900,000 in rehabilitation assistance.
The bridge at the entrance to the Velva City Park was built in 1921 by Fargo Bridge and Iron Co., originally to handle traffic on North Dakota Highway 41 on the north edge of Velva.
A summer scene shows the Pratt through-truss bridge at the entrance to the Velva City Park.
Brent Fischer stands under the Velva Park Bridge where a timber abutment shows signs of aging and a need for repair.
Pin trusses like this one on the Velva Park Bridge have rusted, which inhibits the give in the bridge that enables it to bear heavy loads.
By the early 1960s, the bridge was deemed too small for use on the highway. It is too narrow to allow two vehicles to pass. The bridge was scheduled for demolition and replacement. Instead of destroying the bridge, though, the park board was able to get a grant to move it to its current location over an old river channel, now a storm drainage loop into the Souris River, at the park.
Rust and wear have since taken their toll. The bridge's days might have been numbered but for the community's commitment to preserve the piece of history.
"It's just holding on," park board member Brent Fischer said, pointing out the wear in the timber abutment Tuesday. "You can see it is bowed out a little bit."
Rust has affected pins that allow for flexibility in the bridge, providing the give needed to support heavy loads. A recent engineering report indicated the bridge was at 63 percent of function.
"That's why they were holding their breath when all the trucks were building up the dikes," Fischer said. Heavy, loaded trucks were using the bridge to access dikes to increase flood protection last summer.
The bridge will have to be lifted off its abutments to make the necessary repairs. The bridge also will be sandblasted and repainted. A pedestrian bridge alongside the vehicle bridge will be repaired, and a chain link fence replaced with a guardrail that is more in keeping with the historic nature of the bridge.
One of only three known Pratt through-truss bridges left in the state, the Velva bridge has been on the minds of city and transportation officials for several years.
JD Larson, a member of the Velva City Commission, said interest in preserving the bridge developed after the city's centennial in 2005. The city was able to get the bridge on the Department of Transportation's radar for repairs. However, the 2011 flooding along the Souris River pushed the matter aside for a time.
"We went from a really good candidate to, well, we are going to have to wait a year to see how things shake out," Larson said. "In the meantime, Brent Fischer got involved last year and did a wonderful job of promoting and illuminating the need to get this thing going just a huge injection of energy and awareness."
Fischer, who lives near the bridge, became interested in its fate because of his love for history. Elected to the park board last June, he took on the bridge preservation as a personal project.
"I started pushing the issue and sending pictures to the State Historical Society," he said. "It was push and pull, but in the end, it was very successful for the city."
Fischer said the bridge met the criteria required by the historical society for preservation. Not only was it of historical significance but it has an important role to play.
"It's a bridge to somewhere. It isn't just the city park but the football field and the track and the baseball field. So it's critical for the high school's access," he said. "A lot of people see this. They come to a football game from all over the area. It's kind of like you cross the bridge and you go across the old river channel and you feel like you are going back in time a little bit We wanted to save that (feeling)."
The historical society verified that the bridge with its pinned cables on the exterior sides is rare.
"In addition, not a lot of the bridges have both the date recorded and the company, and that was actually put on a plaque with that particular bridge," said Lorna Meidinger, architectural historian with the historical society. "When we have the information to go with the structures, they become more important because we can actually show the history that goes with it."
Meidinger said the historical society has had the Velva bridge on record since 1991, but it often takes a rehabilitation project proposed by a community to bring historical properties to the state's attention. The Velva project will be of benefit to the community because of the amount of use the bridge gets, she said.
"It will be wonderful. A lot of the other ones we know aren't used nearly as much as this one so we are really enthused about this bridge," Meidinger said.
An informational seminar in Velva about two months ago with representatives of the state transportation department and historical society dispelled any city concerns about the project. One of the biggest questions was, "What will the city have to give up by accepting state and federal funding?"
"The answer was 'nothing.' We maintain control," Larson said.
"It's very minimal cost we are required to contribute," he added. "That would be simply to repair paving."
The city commission approved the paperwork at a meeting earlier this month to get the ball rolling.
A fire many years ago destroyed park board records that contained some of the history of the bridge. However, the local library has photos and information on the bridge, some of it provided by Rolland Loken of Velva, who was involved in the moving process when the bridge came to its current location.
The state is considering the bridge for possible nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.