Villa Park debates value of saving Ovaltine smokestack
One of Villa Park's more noticeable landmarks, a lone smokestack from the former Ovaltine factory, has received a stay of execution from the village board.
Elected officials voted 3-2 as a committee of the whole Monday, with President Joyce Stupegia breaking the tie, to consider taking over maintenance and liability responsibilities to preserve the towering piece of village history.
Initial cost estimates put the cost of repairing the aging smokestack at $225,000 to $345,000 or more, officials said. Money accumulated in the adjoining tax increment finance district could be used to fund the work.
"To save the Ovaltine smokestack is going to be a cost," Stupegia said. "If the village chooses not to do that, this piece of Villa Park history goes down in dust."
The discussion was prompted by owner Lincoln Properties' application to demolish the deteriorating 217-foot-tall chimney near Villa and Kenilworth avenues. The company recently made the request after a steel reinforcement band and bits of the smokestack fell, underscoring the potential safety hazard.
Lincoln Properties is willing to pay for the estimated $50,000 demolition, but representatives have said they won't pay for repairs or ongoing maintenance, Village Manager Robert Niemann said. If the board wants to save the smokestack, the village would have to pay for it and future maintenance, as well as take on any liability.
"There is a real safety issue out there," Niemann said. "If we take on this responsibility, it would be a high risk."
Consultants estimated that recommended repairs would last 10 to 15 years.
Subsequent work could be less extensive and less expensive, Stupegia said. The smokestack needs extensive repairs now because the owners did only cosmetic work when they redeveloped the former manufacturing plant property several years ago, officials said.
Trustees John Davis and Tom Cullerton voted to pursue saving the smokestack.
"Villa Park is known for two things: The Jewelry Exchange and that smokestack," Davis said. "I don't want to take that history away. We should buy some time until we can find some grant money."
"I voted 'yes' to have more discussion, to give people a couple of weeks to look at all the options … and to do the right thing for everybody," Cullerton said.
The factory closed in the mid-1980s after manufacturing the popular powdered chocolate drink and other items for roughly 70 years. According to local lore, Ovaltine helped sustain the Garden Village through the Great Depression by not only taking care of its employees, but also providing milk to other needy residents, Davis said.
Trustees Dave Hegland and Al Bulthuis voted against trying to save the roughly 17-story chimney.
"I'd love for that smokestack to stay but I just don't think it's feasible," Bulthuis said. "We have to look at the numbers. I don't see how we can afford it."
The board is expected to take a formal vote at its June 23 meeting.