Historic bridge strengthens security

The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge has been plagued with vandalism in recent years, but a national grant should help officials better protect the historic Catawba County landmark.

The county’s historical association will receive about $179,425 from the National Covered Bridge Preservation Program to enhance security at the bridge located in Claremont. The historical association must match the grant with up to $43,000 in locally raised funds, said Melinda Herzog, executive director of the Catawba County Historical Association.

“This is quite an effort over a long period of time,” Herzog said.

“This will enable us to use remote cameras that will be linked to security monitoring devices and police departments.”

The grant will fund the installation of video monitoring cameras linked to security centers and local police departments. The grant will also underwrite the installation of heat rise sensors, water sprinkler systems, a water well, pump house and fire retardant coatings, Herzog said.

Over the past few years, the Bunker Hill Bridge has suffered increased vandalism. Recent spray paint graffiti and tagging have damaged historic stenciled advertisements from the early 1900s, according to the historical association.

The bridge is one of Catawba County’s most historic structures and is designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark. It is the only remaining example in wood of the Improved Lattice Truss design patented by U.S. Army General Herman Haupt in the mid-to-late 1840s. It is one of two remaining covered bridges in the state, according to the Catawba County Historical Association.

On Monday, Herzog asked commissioners for help in setting up bid specifications for the security project – a request that Catawba County Manager Tom Lundy said can be worked out.

The grant funds are also required to flow through county government, so Lundy said an “in and out” account will probably be created for the money to be used.

“A requirement of the grant is that it has to flow through the books of the local government,” Lundy said. “We will need to get our staff together with hers and then come back in front of the board.”

Even though the county has no money in the security project, national and state agencies usually require county governments to manage the funds to ensure they are handled properly, Lundy said.

Though the graffiti and paint vandalism is damaging to the bridge’s historical significance, Herzog said more grant funding may come their way soon. The historical association is awaiting word for a preservations proposal from the 2011 Covered Bridge Preservation Program. The proposed $132,232 grant would be used to hire a conservator to remove the graffiti from the bridge and to provide protective coatings thwart future paint vandalism, according to the association.

Commissioners also:

Approved a request from the Catawba Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC) to use grant funds to contract with Exodus Homes – Young men of Integrity to provide gang intervention and prevention programming. This is the second phase of the North Carolina Department of Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Community Based Youth Gang Prevention Program.

JCPC staff member Debbie Bradley said the program can serve about 30 adolescents ages 11-17. Bradley added that the Exodus Homes program relies on volunteers and also incorporates former gang members.

Approved a request from Hickory Public Schools to dedicate $50,000 in lottery funds to pay an annual debt payment for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs), which will free up existing funds that will be dedicated to debt for per capita expenses. Hickory Public Schools has $150,000 in available lottery funds and has requested to use $50,000 in the current year to make the annual QZAB payment, instead of using per capita funds.