Fund the Keystone is latest fundraising effort to offset bridge costs

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Fund the Keystone organizers Ketaki Poyekar, Tony Hauber, Sebastienne Tercero (via video call) and Annie Palas stand in front of Elkader’s historic Keystone Bridge.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


As construction on Elkader’s historic Keystone Bridge mostly comes to end this week, lengthy and costly delays has consumed the entirety of the nearly $4 million allotted to the project through a combination of state and federal money. Resulting cracks and numerous instances of deterioration being worse than anticipated has left the city with an almost $2 million bill to pay, likely leading to higher property taxes for the foreseeable future and saddling the city with a 20-year loan to cover the cost.


Though the final number, with interest and the increase in taxes, is unknown until details become official in a few months, the cost of the project will certainly be felt beyond its Dec. 1 opening.


In an attempt to lower this $2 million total, several efforts have been initiated, beginning with a GoFundMe page, Save the Elkader Keystone Bridge, created by city council member Tony Hauber and city administrator Jennifer Cowsert, which references the impact this will have on Elkader’s future.


“The repair stands to have a serious impact on our budget for years to come. Any money you give now can help make sure we are not feeling the burden of this repair as we continue to make needed investments in other areas of infrastructure around our city,” the page stated.


Started in August 2022, the page has raised close to $3,000 of its $180,000 goal from 25 donations, only one of which has occurred in the last month. While this effort has stalled, along with repeated attempts to locate funds via grants or through contacting legislators, it has not dissuaded Hauber from marching forward. He’s relentlessly pursuing all avenues of fundraising to save a bridge that he believes is “weaved in the very fabric of Elkader.”


So, as one effort languishes, a new one begins. Hauber, along with Ketaki Poyekar, Sebastienne Tercero and Annie Palas, labeled as “a friendly bunch of volunteers with a shared passion for Elkader’s historic Keystone Bridge,” have begun anew with the Fund the Keystone project.


Officially launched a few weeks ago, it has since ramped up efforts. The website instantly pulls at memories and nostalgia, opening with a quote that states, “The great stone arch bridge which spans the Turkey River and which was built, not for a time, but for eternity.”


The motivation for this project remains the same, as the group seeks to “garner more support for preserving this vital infrastructure [and] reshape the way the public thinks about this infrastructure investment and others,” Hauber noted.


In the short term, this means securing more donations and reaching out to more people in the community. In the long term, the idea is to create a sort of “positive sentiment,” not just for the bridge project, but also for future infrastructure projects, which typically come with a hefty price tag and tenuous budget estimation.


Mostly, however, the goal of the effort is to simply raise enough money to lower the overall loan amount that will be needed. As Hauber put it, “every dollar raised alleviates the financial burden on the city and the taxpayers.”


This is important for Hauber because lacking a target fundraising goal is not a hindrance in this situation, but a positive because it means every contribution, regardless of amount, “is valued and significant” to the project’s overall success. The insurmountable total with an attached fundraising goal could potentially deter donations as it gives the impression it doesn’t matter in the long run or it could incur a less optimistic view on the current state of things.  


The approach has relied on several things, including numerous poster campaigns, donation containers at local businesses, digital canvassing and social media content. Conversations have also taken place about other possibilities, such as a fundraiser concert, bridge merchandise and contests involving bridge specific art, photographs or poetry.


Expanding the project’s digital footprint is vital to getting the word out, to reach people who might be persuaded into donating for whatever reason, whether a love of small towns, an affinity for historic bridges or a memory they shared while visiting Elkader when the bridge was open.


More poetically, social media outreach could attract “anyone who believes in the American spirit of ingenuity and the power of public infrastructure to connect people and form communities,” Hauber said. 


This statement was coupled with the fact the Keystone Bridge still stands after 135 years, which is about 20 years older than the Model-T. This emphasizes the historicity because the Keystone doesn’t just span decades, it stretches across centuries and still serves as the only access across the Turkey River in town for both cars and pedestrians.


“The ingenuity and work to build this structure that would still be serving people 135 years later is an impressive feat. I truly believe that, with the work we’ve done today, we’ve ensured its capacity to last another 135 years,” Hauber said.


The social media effort includes the website for donations and Facebook and Instagram pages with updates and historical photos and information. The sites post about one to five times a week, just keeping the fundraising effort in the minds of people and engaging potential donors. Between the sites, the effort has over 550 followers and recently posted about a fundraising effort led by the Elkader Merchants Group, which presented the City with a check for $840 to fund the Keystone.


The donation site has had around 500 visitors and 25 donations (several of which recur monthly), totaling over $1,500. The online effort is intended to mitigate the financial impact on residents, who will be called on to pay the bill regardless in the very near future. Donations from those from outside the community lessen that overall burden.


“The world is online these days and having a presence online via social media accounts and websites expands awareness to the whole world. We are building this digital footprint for the bridge to tap into the vast global audience interested in architectural and historical structures,” Hauber explained.


In conjunction with this fundraising effort, there will be a bridge reopening celebration on Friday, Dec. 1, from 4 to 6 p.m., in the Central State Bank Lobby. It will include refreshments and a silent auction of historic bridge memorabilia with proceeds going to fund the bridge project.


“The bridge symbolizes the town’s success and embodies the community’s commitment to connecting and serving its people. This is the greatest investment in this piece of infrastructure since its original construction…it was here before us and we will make sure it is here after us,” Hauber said. 

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