MOUNT VERNON — By a 4-to-3 vote, City Council members committed funds over the next three years for restoration of the bridge at Foundation Park.
The Wrought Iron Phoenix Bridge, built in 1884, has historical significance, which qualifies the city to apply for a grant under the Transportation Enhancement Project. Working through the Ohio Department of Transportation, the federal program would pay 80 percent of the cost of restoration; the city would fund the rest.
The bridge was moved from Bladensburg to Foundation Park in November 2008, with the idea it would be restored for pedestrian use as part of the trail system in the park. It was anticipated some of the cost would be mitigated through use of volunteer labor.
The cost of restoration is $620,000; of that, $550,000 is construction cost, the remaining $70,000 is engineering fees. Grant money would cover $440,000. The city would be responsible for $180,000; $110,000 in construction costs, plus the $70,000 in engineering fees.
Councilman Bruce Hawkins questioned whether council was voting to commit to the funding or to applying for the grant.
“We’re saying the funds will be available during the phase of design work,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “It is a competitive application. We were invited to apply for this grant, but there is no guarantee we will actually get the money to rehabilitate the bridge. But the city is committing $180,000 if the grant is approved.”
Actual restoration would not take place until 2012. Council set aside $40,000 in the 2010 budget toward the bridge restoration. City Auditor Terry Scott has said council could set aside $35,000 in 2011 and again in 2012, thus covering the $110,000 in construction fees. Scott said the $70,000 in engineering fees could come from the general fund.
Councilman Mike Hillier asked what would happen if the city budget undergoes a real downturn over the next couple of years and is unable to set aside the $35,000 each year.
“We could rescind the resolution and notify ODOT,” replied Mavis. “If the city already spent some money, we could pull out of the enhancement portion and wait for another year.”
Mavis said if the physical restoration part of the project had to be delayed, the city would at least already have the design plans paid for.
“One of my concerns,” said Councilwoman Nancy Vail, “is, over a period of time if we don’t do this, what are we going to do with this pile of junk that has historical value?”
“To say if we vote it down tonight we’ll have a pile of junk is jumping the gun,” said Hillier. “I am just not sure whether we should be spending $180,000 on a bridge in Foundation Park when it could be used for other projects. If we thought it was going to be a pile of junk, we wouldn’t have done it. It can still be a bridge and something we can be proud of, doing it the way we originally thought it was going to be done.
“I hate to turn my head to $440,000, but I hesitate to spend $180,000 when it could go to other projects.”
City Engineer Cameron Keaton said the bridge has to be restored to construction standards of today.
“To think we can rehabilitate this bridge for $110,000 is not realistic,” he said, “even to be a pedestrian bridge. You would be spending that kind of money, $400,000 to $500,000, to bring it up to today’s standards.”
Councilmen Chuck Dice and Jay Maners joined Hillier in voting against the resolution to commit the money.
“I have reservations,” said Dice. “You know I love to put money into our parks, but I’d much rather put the money toward a pedestrian bridge [over the Kokosing]. I am wondering in my own mind, with the money we are talking about being involved ... how many people are going to see it once, and that’s the end of it?”
Dice said people come to Foundation Park to walk and to fish, not necessarily to see a historic bridge.
Mavis said the park has a trail system, and the bridge becomes part of that whole system.
“You get the [federal] money because it is a historical structure. You put [the bridge] in place as if you were building a new structure,” he said.
“I think the significance of this bridge — children yet unborn will see this bridge, 50 years from now,” said Council President John Booth. “The significance of that, and the historical value, once it’s there, in 50 years you won’t have to do anything with it.
“We brought [the bridge to Foundation Park] to connect parts of the trail. We should stay with that original theme,” he said.. “It is a lot of money, but once you save [the bridge], it’s there.”
“We made a commitment to make Foundation Park a gem of the city,” said Councilman John Fair, “a gemstone Mount Vernon could have for years and years to come. We already brought the bridge to the park. I think to look a gift horse in the mouth at almost a half million dollars — at some later date it will cost twice as much. If the auditor says we have the money, then I agree.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan was split, but voted to commit the funding, along with Vail, Fair and Councilman Bruce Hawkins.
“I don’t feel with the economy and budget that we have the $180,000, but we have already started [the project],” she said. “I feel our hands are kind of tied.”
The three readings of the resolution were waived and council adopted the resolution Monday night because the deadline for applying for the transportation enhancement money is May 1.
In other business, council tabled a resolution allowing the city safety-service director to enter into a lease agreement to locate communication equipment on the east end water tower. The lease with Open Range Communication would be for five years, with five automatic renewals for a potential agreement for 30 years. Council tabled the resolution until more information is received.
Council members reminded residents of upcoming events, including the first city cleanup day, the first farmers market on Public Square and council’s monthly open meeting at Sips, all on May 1; the first First Friday of the year on May 7; Women’s Day Out and the police department’s annual sale of bicycles, cars and the rest of the parking meters, both on May 8; and a ribbon cutting and picnic lunch with Kiwanis on May 24 at Foundation Park.
Jordan congratulated administrative assistant Dee Wood on her winning safety essay, and said the $1,000 for security cameras Wood won for the city comes at an opportune time.
Council members will meet with the Knox County Commissioners on May 10, prior to their next council meeting.
Council adjourned into executive session at 8:05 p.m. to discuss personnel. No further action was taken.