L/rain
51°
L/rain
Hi 50° | Lo 29°

Bridging the Gap: A Windsor Icon Restored

Greg Blanchard, left, owner of Blanchard Construction, and Richard Nelson, president of Peachtree Builders Inc., are part of a project to rebuild a pedestrian bridge in Windsor that was lost to Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Greg Blanchard, left, owner of Blanchard Construction, and Richard Nelson, president of Peachtree Builders Inc., are part of a project to rebuild a pedestrian bridge in Windsor that was lost to Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

Windsor — Before Tropical Storm Irene wiped it out almost two years ago, the wooden footbridge connecting Windsor’s Union Street neighborhood to the high school athletic fields was just as much a historic landmark and community asset as it was convenient passageway.

Thanks to three area contractors, the bridge is coming back.

Richard Nelson, Greg Blanchard and Roger Gilman — all owners of Windsor-based construction companies — spearheaded a successful effort to resurrect the bridge, replacing the former 70-foot structure with a sturdier 80-foot version to be erected this summer over Mill Brook. The trio’s companies are performing the work at cost — between $60,000-$80,000, according to Windsor town manager Tom Marsh — after gaining approval from the town selectboard and securing the necessary permits last winter.

Construction on the site, across from the town municipal building, has already begun. Two large cement abutments flank either side of the brook, rebar protruding skyward and awaiting the placement of the bridge.

The unit itself has been built in two parts by Minnesota-based Contech Bridge Solutions and is due to arrive any day, Nelson said. It will be assembled by Gilman’s company, Miller Construction.

“We considered designing and building it ourselves, but after doing some research we decided (having it built and shipped) would be the best way to go,” said Nelson, owner of Peachtree Builders. “It was the most time- and cost-effective way and allowed us to focus on the work that needed to be done here.”

The new structure will feature a slightly arched middle and be sturdier than the previous bridge, widely known for its springiness. During the many decades the old bridge was in service, jubilant sports fans would take advantage of its bounce by jumping up and down on it to celebrate a win.

For much of its life, the bridge was a necessary conduit from the old Windsor High School — now a municipal building that includes the town offices, fire and police stations and recreation center — to the athletic fields. The softball field sits directly across from the bridge site, with the field hockey and soccer fields, baseball diamond and the MacLeay-Royce football field and track facility just beyond that.

Marsh, who became town manager only a few weeks before Irene struck, said approval of the project stemmed largely from the sentimentality for and history of the structure.

“There are much better things to spend money on than shortcuts. We don’t build bridges that are only going to be used as shortcuts,” Marsh said. “But there is a lot of community support to replace this bridge, and I think a lot of that has to do with the history. Before the new high school opened, athletes and coaches needed the bridge just to get from their locker rooms to the field. There are generations of people who are accustomed to having it there.”

It’s also valuable as a pedestrian access point from neighborhoods south of the high school, whose residents have had to detour around to the main high school entrance on State Street for the last two years.

“Students use the bridge to walk to and from school,” Nelson noted. “It’s safer to have it there so they’re not walking around on Route 44 (Union Street). It’s keeping kids off the streets, so to speak.”

Some commuting fans of both Windsor High and visiting teams park on Union Street or in the municipal building lot to avoid what can be a congested main lot at the high school — especially when there are several games happening at the same time and neighboring schools are involved.

Blanchard, a 1982 Woodstock High grad, played football for the Wasps and recalls the old bridge fondly.

“We had a lot of fun on that bridge,” he said. “Win or lose, you always knew you were playing Windsor when you went over the brook.”

Like the old bridge, a town waterline will be attached under the new one to transfer water to maintain the fields. It’s just another way the bridge serves as a community asset, said Windsor recreation director Harry Ladue.

“It’s been great to see the way people have come together to build a new one,” he said. “I remember the bridge being there since I was in grade school. It’s something the town values.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.