LACONIA — City officials and guests celebrated what Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, called "the reopening of the Main Street Bridge and the grand opening of Gateway Park" with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the site last evening.
Director of Public Works Paul Moynihan noted that the bridge, originally constructed in 1972, is a unique structure — unlike any other span in the state — and posed significant challenges the engineer, Dubois & King, Inc. of Laconia, and the contractor R. M. Piper, Inc. of Plymouth.
Perhaps the stiffest test arose from the lack of an as-built design of the structure, which left the team to work from the design documents. But, when the bridge was dismantled they discovered that its structure did not conform to the design, leaving them to re-engineer elements of the project in the course of construction while striving to keep the work on schedule. "It was fun," said Bob Ayers, site superintendent for R.M. Piper. "I've never done a bridge like it."
The bridge is 400 feet across, between Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West, and consists of three spans. "Everything was rebuilt from the abutments up," Moynihan said.
Both Pat Wood of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Committee and John Morierty, president of the Main Street Initiative, referred to the impact of the project on the community, particularly on those who live and work downtown where traffic was diverted. Wood said that "we listened to each other and worked together to solutions to the problems" while Moriarty stressed that the effects of "interruptions" were minimized and the project was completed "not for but with downtown Laconia."
Moriarty remarked that Melissa McCarthy of The Studio on Canal Street became the official photographer for the project, serving as "the watchful eye of the citizenry which is not an east thing for a contractor to work under." The crew from R.M. Piper presented McCarthy with a hard bedecked with stickers, among one reading "certified camera operator."
Mayor Ed Engler noted that before 1855, when the township of Laconia was established, the bridge connected the townships of Meredith to the north and and Gilford to the south. By the time the town became a city in 1893 the bridge was lined with buildings on both sides, its identity as a bridge obscured to those passing over it. "This is historic ground," he remarked.
The mayor suggested "we stop and appreciate patience," especially the patience of those owning and operating businesses who endured some "tough times" during the construction process. He also reminded everyone that Main Street is a state highway, a major north-south thoroughfare, and that our neighbors in Meredith and Belmont were also affected.
Underling the success of the project, Engler said "lots of good things are happening in downtown Laconia and this is one of them. We've done a lot in the last 15 years," he continued, "but we're not stopping here. We're just getting started."
The reconstruction of the bridge cost $3.57-million, of which state contributed $2-million and the federal government $800,000, leaving the balance to the city. The stonework and landscaping of Gateway Plaza cost$ an additional $240,000, which was underwritten by the city.