Colorado engineers, students studying historic Jones County bridge

The Ely's Stone Bridge northwest of Monticello.
The Ely's Stone Bridge northwest of Monticello.(KCRG)
Published: Sep. 8, 2016 at 4:50 PM CDT
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Ely's Stone Bridge is one of only 10 stone bridges still in use in Iowa, and it's the only one like it in the state.

But the 123-year-old structure located near Monticello is deteriorating and now there's a tricky question.

Should Jones County keep a piece of history intact or replace it with something modern?

And Jones County leaders will get some unusual help in making that decision. That's because researchers and students from the University of Colorado at Denver are doing an in-depth study of this unique stone bridge in eastern Iowa.

And they're doing it without cost to county taxpayers.

The reason is a family connection.

Professor Kevin Rens and his wife Amy grew up in northwest Iowa and both studied engineering at Iowa State.

Amy Rens returned to eastern Iowa six weeks ago for a family event and saw a news story about the deteriorating conditions at the Ely's Stone Bridge.

She convinced her husband, the chair of the department of civil engineering at the Colorado school, to consider a study of the bridge as an academic project.

"It has cultural significance for the people who live here kids who come and hang out. The wedding pictures and photos that get take here," Amy Rens said.

Kevin Rens said the university budgeted $30,000 to bring 14 people to Jones County in Iowa to study the bridge.

Such an engineering assessment might cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars if done privately. But it's free to the county.

Kevin Rens said two master's candidates and one PhD candidate will base their academic projects on the work they do at the Ely's Stone Bridge.

In a meeting with county leaders Thursday, Kevin Rens said one key decision the county has to make is whether the idea is to repair the bridge to keep handling traffic or preserve it for hikers and bikers with perhaps a small park attached.

That would greatly impact what it takes to both repair the bridge and use it in the future.

The report from the engineers and students at the University of Colorado at Denver should arrive before the end of the year.

The county has closed the Ely's Stone Bridge on Stone Bridge Road through Saturday to allow the researchers to do their work.

The Jones County engineer has estimated it might cost $250,000-$300,000 to replace the old stone bridge with something modern.