Whites Covered Bridge rebuild delayed because of a lack of funds

By Emilee Nielsen • Last Updated 12:41 pm on Thursday, March 09, 2017

All that remains of the once majestic and historical Whites Covered Bridge is a ‘Road Ends’ sign placed at either end of the gap between Whites Bridge Road where the Flat River runs through. The bridge was burned to the ground in an act of arson in July 2013. — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

KEENE TOWNSHIP — Another roadblock stands in the way of efforts to rebuild Whites Covered Bridge, which was lost in an early morning blaze in July 2013.

According to Tom Byle, president of the Whites Bridge Historical Society and a Kent County Road Commission engineer, the society will need to raise an additional $425,000, which is much more than expected.

The society has $475,000 in total set aside for the project already; $200,000 came from the Meijer Foundation and $275,000 from a Michigan Department of Transportation grant for local bridges, according to MLive.

Now, Byle said, the group is hoping to obtain funding from various sources including other grants, donations from businesses and organizations in the area and donations from area citizens as well.

Byle also said the society has yet to open bids for the project officially as there have been technical questions about the plans to rebuild. Specifically, there are questions about the specifications for the timbers used to rebuild.

The Whites Bridge Historical Society has been working for years to try to gather funds in order to rebuild the Whites Covered Bridge which was burned to the ground in July 2013. They’ve recently realized their original estimate to rebuild of $450,000 is only about half the amount it would cost to rebuild today.

“From that discussion, it sprung up that our estimate (of $450,000 to rebuild) was way too low. We were off by half,”Byle said. “We’re in fundraising mode. We’re sending out proposals and requests to different foundations.”

He said it’s the hope that organizations that have declined to donate funds for the project in the past will rethink that decision based on more concrete details for the rebuild.

Byle said the economy has heated up in recent years and the contractors that would be involved in the project have more work than they did at the time the bridge burned down, which accounts for some of the change in the cost of the project.

“That happens in this business once in a while, where you just get really surprised by the actual cost,” he said.

As of right now, there is no timeline for when the project will go out for bid. Byle said he believes if the society doesn’t begin to secure more funding for the project, it could stall out and ultimately be scrapped.

“We’re going to be positive and we haven’t been turned down yet by anybody we’ve requested (funds) from,” he said.

While they haven’t been turned down, no organization the society has approached has agreed to donate funds.

The case was ruled arson at the time based on evidence of gasoline to accelerate the flames. The case remains open to this day and has had made no forward progress.

According to MLive, there is still a $7,000 reward for anyone who can provide information about the incident that leads to an arrest and conviction.

Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can do so at whitesbridgehistoricalsociety.org/donate. They can also mail a check to Whites Bridge Historical Society, PO Box 55, Lowell, MI 49331-0055.

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