Will Naperville Riverwalk carillon tower have to come down?
Members of a Naperville panel that oversees the Riverwalk are seriously considering the possibility of decommissioning the tower that holds the Millennium Carillon after determining the structure faces issues with cracked concrete and corroded steel.
The Riverwalk Commission on Wednesday began reviewing an assessment of the structure before formulating a recommendation to the city council about what should be done with the 17-year-old Moser Tower, a 160-foot-tall spire that houses 72 chiming bells and has become an icon on the city's skyline.
Commissioners brainstormed pros and cons of four options to address the structural problems found in the $50,000 assessment, in which engineers observed cracked and deteriorating concrete walls that could cause pieces to fall "without notice," and corroded steel supports that could decrease stability.
The city could fix the structure and maintain it as is for $3 million; fix it and enclose the base to help prevent future corrosion for $3.75 million; maintain it for a while and then tear it down for $1.6 million; or tear it down immediately for $660,000.
"None of the options are desirable," Riverwalk Commission Chairman Geoff Roehll said.
The commission is expected to debate the future of the tower until July or August, then recommend one of the options to the city council.
The council then will prioritize spending on tower repairs among all the other projects in its annual capital improvements plan, such as work on roads, bridges, electric service, water lines and sewer infrastructure.
The decision of what to do with the $7.1 million tower isn't an easy one, which is why the commission plans to take its time to seek community input.
"This is a structure that doesn't have to exist," said Judith Brodhead, who is the city council's representative on the Riverwalk Commission. "I haven't seen a lot of pushback to repairing this or caring for it."
The problem with the more expensive options -- repairing the tower and enclosing the lower 72 feet -- is the plans involve some risk and several unknowns, said Bill Novack, the city's director of transportation, engineering and development.
The city doesn't yet know if the cracking and corrosion are getting worse, or staying basically unchanged. It's also unknown how much weather will continue to affect the structure, or how effective repairs would be.
"There's no guarantee this will really extend the life of the tower," Novack said.
Some Riverwalk commissioners said they worry about fiscal responsibility and how to respect the money donors gave to the tower and carillon, while also acknowledging the city's financial needs.
Commissioner John Joseph said maintaining the structure as-is, with plans to decommission it when maintenance becomes too costly, is the "safest option." Yet others said that would constitute kicking the can down the road.
"It's going to boil down to, 'How important is this structure to Naperville?'" Brodhead said.
Although she described the tower as "somewhat troubled," possibly for its previous issues with falling concrete in the early 2000s, Brodhead said it's an important part of Naperville's image, reputation, identity and appearance. So preserving it, not just decommissioning it, also should be strongly considered.
But in a survey of Riverwalk users completed earlier this year, preserving the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon came in last among four potential projects. When people were asked to choose their top priority, it earned 16 percent of votes.
Projects people preferred include building a park at 430 S. Washington St., just south of the DuPage River near the Burger King, which received 38 percent of votes; extending the Riverwalk south to Hillside Avenue, which got 27 percent of votes; and constructing ADA ramps at the Eagle Street Bridge, which got 19 percent.
Commission Chairman Roehll said he wishes spending on the tower wouldn't have to detract from these other ideas. Fixing the tower, he says, won't create any noticeable improvements to the experience along the Riverwalk. It will simply keep things they way they are. And for how long, it's impossible to tell.
"We'll spend that money and we'll still have a carillon. It'll be exactly the way it is today. Period," Roehll said. "It's kind of a lose/lose scenario. You spend the money and get exactly what you have."