by Shaun Tilghman
Despite the inclement weather, a large group gathered at the North Manchester Covered Bridge on Friday morning to take part in the dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting that marked the bridge’s official reopening. Although Friday was the official reopening, the bridge was actually open to traffic as early as Thursday.
Wabash County Bridge No. 645 (North Manchester Covered Bridge, S. Mill Street over the Eel River) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Smith Bridge Company, from Toledo, Ohio, built the bridge in 1872 for approximately $3,515; the entire structure is built of wood, put together with pins, iron bolts, and square cut nails.
Following the disastrous fire that nearly destroyed the Roann Covered Bridge, the North Manchester Covered Bridge remains the only one in Wabash County with most of the original structure intact. Restoration of this unique bridge was recently undertaken to repair or replace deteriorated truss members, flooring, roofing, and siding in order to extend the life of this structure for future generations to utilize and admire.
Wabash County Commissioners Brian Haupert and Barry Eppley were both pleased with the results of the project. “I feel really good about the project and it turned out really nice,” said Haupert.
“The bridge was definitely in need of repair,” he continued, “and actually, when we took some of the siding off we found out it was probably in a little worse condition than we thought. They did get a little behind on the project, but that was for some unforeseen structural deficiencies and those are things that you just can’t help. They still only lost 44 days on the project and it looks good now. There is still a little bit of work to do – they’re waiting on some shingles and they still have some painting to do – but they’ll get it looking nice by next spring and hopefully by then we’ll have some grass growing in the area again.”
Eppley added, “It’s nice to have it battened down before the end of the year, especially since winter came a little early. There are still a few things to get finished up but I’m sure they’ll get that all taken care of without much trouble. It turned out fantastic, and it’s an accomplishment that wouldn’t have been possible without the additional funding we attained. We’re just glad to be able to hand it over for another generation to enjoy.”
Existing materials and construction details were reused as much as possible and the construction was completed with the approval of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, along with various permitting agencies and local officials.
Federal funds, secured from the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program and the Transportation Enhancement Fund, paid for 80 percent of the design and construction costs. Wabash County paid the remaining 20 percent with local high way money.
“It’s nice because the 80/20 split is an opportunity for the people here in Wabash County to get some of their federal tax dollars back, so it was good to be able to put it back into a project like this,” Haupert explained.
Overall, the project had a price tag of approximately $1 million, which included $180,300 for engineering costs, $805,000 for construction costs, and $90,500 for construction inspection costs. United Consulting (Indianapolis) handled the design and construction inspection, while CLR Inc. (Vincennes) and Square and Level Construction (Bridgeton) served as the general contractor and covered bridge contractor, respectively.
“This bridge has been a long time coming and we appreciate everyone being here today,” said Steve Jones, vice president of Business Development & Marketing for United Consulting. “I personally would like to thank the Commissioners – Brian, Barry, and Scott (Givens) – along with Highway Superintendent John Martin, for allowing us to work on this important project. I’d also like to thank INDOT for all of their help and guidance on this project, as well as the Federal Highway Administration for their contributions to the project. And I would especially like to thank the Town of North Manchester for their patience during the closure of the bridge for this project.”
Dan Reitmeyer, general superintendent for CLR Inc., described the project as fairly average in terms of the restoration work that needed to be done. “It was far less intensive than some of the bridge projects we’ve worked on,” he continued. “The biggest delay came while we were waiting for the utilities to get moved away from the bridge; other than that, most things went as planned. We still have some touch-up painting to do in a couple of spots and then just some general clean up, but for the most part it’s all done.”
Mark Berry, from United Consulting, did the construction inspection for the project and said the walkthrough Friday morning was to make a list of touch-up items that still need to be completed so they’ll have that information on file.
“A lot of what’s left to do involves painting, because we just ran out of good painting weather,” Berry added. “It took a little longer than anticipated, but sometimes you run into things you didn’t expect; for instance, we’re jacking up a bridge that has been settling for over 140 years, so some of those bolts just didn’t want to come out. Overall though, it went really well, and the contractor said a lot of times costs will go up 30-40 percent with these projects, but we were able to keep well beneath that, which is due in part to us being able to reuse so much of the original lumber.”
Haupert wrapped things up by complimenting the companies involved with the project and thanking them for their efforts. “Everybody was really great to work with, especially United Consulting, INDOT, CLR, and the Historic Preservation Program,” he said.
“This is the culmination of the ‘Year of the Detour’ in North Manchester,” Haupert concluded, “and I’m glad we could finish most of the projects off by the end of the year. We want to thank everyone that was involved in this project – it turned out fantastic and everybody should be proud of the work they’ve done here. It’s nice to give this little Christmas present to the county and the town; so again, thank you for all of your hard work.”