By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The historic fence around the Common should soon be getting some much-needed TLC.
The city is accepting bids for roughly $150,000 worth of repair and restoration work on the cast iron fence, which was installed in 1850.
Bids are due Jan. 31. The city will take a few weeks to review the bids and award a contract, and work could begin in the spring — if not sooner, said Lynn Duncan, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Community Development.
The project will work on three entrances in the half-mile fence: along Washington Square North, near the Roger Conant statue; Washington Square South; and the main entrance, across from the Hawthorne Hotel.
Approximately 12 sections of the fence will be restored or replaced in the project. Part of the work involves making molds of fence components, which can be reused in the future, Duncan said.
“The Commons and the fence are historically significant and I think that emotionally, it (means) a lot to people,” said Duncan. “It’s part of the heart of the city, really.”
The project is budgeted for roughly $150,000, said Duncan: $100,000 of city capital improvement funds and a $40,700 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
The city has struggled with upkeep of the fence in years past. This year’s project will focus on the entrances, the structure’s focal point, to “get the most bang for our limited dollars,” said Duncan.
“... It’s something that will continually need maintenance. This is at least a start,” she said.
Duncan estimated a restoration of the entire fence would cost “upwards of $1 million.”
The Salem Common is listed on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places. The ornate wrought iron fence has 253 segments and encircles the 9-acre parcel of public land.
This proposed restoration project got its start in 2011, when the city received a grant, also from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, to study the fence and create a restoration plan.
The city was awarded the $40,700 matching grant for restoration work in 2012.
“By looking at the fence, you can tell it needs repair. Sections are missing,” Duncan said. “(The fence) is something of great historical significance, and important to the community.”
Major repairs of various fence sections were done in 1979, 1981, 1984-85, 1996 and 2000, according to the city.
Duncan noted Community Preservation Act funds could possibly be tapped for future projects to maintain the Common fence. Salem voters adopted the CPA, which allows a tax surcharge to be collected for projects that create or improve recreation, open space, affordable housing or historic preservation, in November.
The Salem Common is also the site of the 1637 militia muster that gave birth to the nation’s National Guard. President Barack Obama signed a bill this month designating Salem as the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.