ROCKINGHAM -- The new Bartonsville Covered Bridge is well on its way to becoming the same sort of town fixture its predecessor was.

Ferocious waters caused by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 destroyed the previous structure, built in 1870, and a mission to replace it was soon started. Fast forward about two and a half years -- and the bridge has been named the recipient of a merit award from a competition of the American Council of Engineering Companies. The Bartonsville Covered Bridge, which opened to the public in January 2013, proved triumphant out of all other transportation projects completed in the state.

Dale Gozalkowski, the market segment vice president of Clough Harbour & Associates (CHA), which designed the new bridge, sent his fellow employees and local officials an e-mail -- forwarded to the Reformer -- to inform them of the news. He specifically gave a shout-out to co-worker Phil Pierce.

"Please join me in congratulating [Project Engineer] Phil Pierce for his passion and yeoman's effort leading us through the technical intricacies of this wonderful structure. However, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize what a wonderful experience it was to work with everyone involved with this project in all capacities," he said in the e-mail. "I feel very fortunate to have been surrounded by such first class people in this very difficult time."

The absence of the 151-foot-long bridge served as a reminder to Rockingham residents of the calamity Irene unleashed on the state when it took an unusual path up the East Coast and made a beeline for Vermont. The storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in one day and the overflow resulted in the Williams River taking the structure as a souvenir.

CHA was tasked with the design the bridge while Cold River Bridges of Walpole, N.H., was hired to build it. The construction of a replacement bridge and its new award serves as a symbol of the town, and the rest of the state, rising from its metaphorical ashes following the devastating storm.

Susan Hammond, a Rockingham Selectboard member who video-recorded the bridge's destruction, lives near the structure and spearheaded the local grassroots campaign to rebuild it. She grew up near the bridge before spending more than 20 years living around the world and said the merit award came as fantastic news.

"Phil Pierce and his crew did a great job designing the bridge and taking into consideration all the needs of the 21st century," she said, elaborating that the new version had to be big enough to support a modern-day fire truck. "It was important to residents and they factored it in. And Cold River did a great job of implementing the design."

Hammond posted her video (which contains some expletives) of the bridge's destruction on YouTube.

She told the Reformer seeing the new bridge and knowing it has won a merit award is very satisfying. She said the former structure was sentimental to locals for various reasons, as is the new one.

"I think, at least partly, it's nostalgia. I think it connects the past to the future. ... It's not very often a town will build a new covered bridge completely," she said. "It keeps the character of the hamlet."

Gozalkowski said the project's historic significance was felt by all who worked on it.

"I think I can speak on behalf of all of us to say we were thrilled to have the opportunity to come in and basically rebuild a piece of history," he told the Reformer. "You take it personally. It's not just another job. You make a personal connection to it. We all felt that connection from the first time the phone rang and right through the end."

Shortly after Irene swept through the area, many residents began to conceive an idea for pairing the new structure with a kiosk made from portions of the destroyed one. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Rockingham's insurance provider, verbally agreed recently to sell back a portion of the wrecked structure's remnants to Rockingham for the project and Hammond said she hopes the kiosk, which will be shaped as a tiny replica of the old bridge, will be open by the summer.

Ken Canning, the director of the risk management service department at VLCT, told the Reformer earlier this month there is an agreement that the town can take as much of the salvage as needed for the kiosk for $16,000, which is the total value of the remains. Canning said VLCT paid Rockingham more than $1 million when the bridge was destroyed. Paying the victimized town, he said, customarily entitles VLCT to take ownership of all salvage, which is sold off and helps VLCT keep costs and premiums low for all its members.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.