Grayslake is opting to show a commitment to keeping some old-time charm in the heritage section of the village rather than replacing its concrete street signs.
Village board members recently approved contracting with two companies for new concrete street poles that'll be installed this year. It's believed Grayslake and Park Ridge are the last suburbs with such street signs, officials said.
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Trustee Shawn Vogel, 38, a lifelong Grayslake resident, said he couldn't imagine the village without the solid markers in its heritage area. He said elected officials had considered replacing the old-fashioned signs but decided against it.
"You identify with them," Vogel said. "They're unique. Each town has something that they look for, whether it's a brand or something they're known for. And I think when people come into our town and see those signs -- and they realize they stand out because they haven't seen them anywhere else other than Park Ridge -- it sets us apart. It's part of our character."
Incorporated on May 9, 1895, Grayslake has concrete pole street signs in an area bounded by Alleghany Road to the west, Route 83 on the east, Washington Street to the north and the Lake Street Metra commuter rail station on the south. Deputy Village Manager Derek Soderholm said Grayslake has 111 of the concrete posts.
However, any subdivisions within the boundary built since the 1990s don't have the iconic signs. Neither village officials nor Grayslake Historical Society President Charlotte Renehan could say how long the village has had the signs.
Woodstock-based Americast Concrete Products Corp. will receive $33,150 to make 102 replacement poles on order from Grayslake.
After Americast's work is finished, Sign City Corp. will prime, paint, letter and install 53 of the posts this year for $18,930. Soderholm said the village expects to spend another $18,000 with Sign City so the other 49 markers can be installed after the next fiscal year starts May 1, 2014.
The village is attempting to standardize the pole height at 7 feet, Soderholm said. Plans also call for more reflective and uniform lettering on the posts.
"People have had varying opinions about the posts, but I would say we receive more compliments about the style," Soderholm said.
In Park Ridge, there are 1,089 concrete street markers across the city that are made in-house by the public works department, said Community Preservation and Development Director James Testin. He said it's unknown how long the poles have been used in the 120-year-old city.
"We have not debated getting rid of them," Testin said. "They are part of the character of the municipality, and it does distinguish us from surrounding communities."
Although concrete signs are considered a rarity, they are embraced by some towns across the country. For example, St. Joseph, Mo., roughly 35 miles north of Kansas City, has "several thousand" of the poles, according to Streets and Sewers Superintendent Gary Leftin.
Volunteers from youth organizations and elsewhere help the town keep the poles fresh in St. Joseph's historic area, using a three-step process of scraping, applying a white wash and using black spray paint for the street names.
Leftin said there has been no desire to get rid of the signs.
"It's a nice thing to have in that (historic) neighborhood," Leftin said.
Last year, residents were not willing to let go of concrete pillar signs in the exclusive Juno Isles community on the Intercoastal Waterway in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Minutes from community meetings show while Palm Beach County considered the poles to be obsolete and offered to remove them for free, officials decided to keep them and asked a local Boy Scout troop to refurbish the markers.
But the pole tradition has disappeared in North Palm Beach, Fla., not far from Juno Isles. The village council in April 2011 voted 4-1 in favor of spending $246,200 on modern signs, with former Mayor Darryl Aubrey objecting and citing how the old concrete poles provided character in neighborhoods away from major thoroughfares.
Grayslake Village Manager Mike Ellis doesn't see his town's concrete signs meeting a similar fate.
"They're a longtime thing here in town," Ellis said. "It's a historic kind of thing. It's unique."