A new way to save Naperville's Millennium Carillon?
As the debate continues in Naperville over a landmark bell tower and its stature as a city amenity, engineers say they may have found a new option to save the monument that has developed worrisome structural flaws.
A technique commonly used to control corrosion in underground pipes may offer another alternative to addressing the issues plaguing the 160-foot-tall tower that houses a 72-bell carillon along Naperville's Riverwalk.
But the city's chief engineer acknowledges he's unfamiliar with the technique's application on aboveground structures.
The latest twist came as some of the tower's original benefactors, musicians and others told Riverwalk commissioners Wednesday that the city must find a way to pay for repairs to preserve the spire that dominates the downtown skyline.
Corrosion experts recently approached Naperville officials about using a process called cathodic protection on Moser Tower after the city released an assessment in June on the condition of the 17-year-old structure.
That report found that the tower that holds the Millennium Carillon suffers from corroded structural steel, cracking concrete, deteriorating sealant at the joints and a leaking plaza.
City engineers are talking with the corrosion experts about doing additional testing on the $7.1 million tower that could determine whether cathodic protection is even feasible. If it is, the Naperville Riverwalk Commission will have a fifth option to consider before making a recommendation to the city council as early as next month about what to do with Moser Tower.
The four options now under consideration are: Fixing the structure and maintaining it as is for $3 million, fixing it and enclosing the base to help prevent future corrosion for $3.75 million, maintaining it for a while and then tearing it down for $1.6 million, or tearing it down immediately for $660,000.
Bill Novak, the city's director of transportation, engineering and development, told Riverwalk commissioners they could get more details about cathodic protection as another possible course of action during a meeting on Aug. 9. The city council likely won't take up the issue of the tower's future until September or October.
"We have no idea what the final cost would be," Novak said. "We don't even know if it would actually work and help stave off corrosion and further deterioration of the structure."
Utility crews typically use the technique by running an electrical current along pipes to redirect corrosion, so it's "not on the asset that you want to protect and maintain," Novak said.
"I'll be honest -- I'm familiar with it with buried pipes for decades, but relative to buildings, this is the first I've heard of it," Novak told Riverwalk commissioners.
The debate now has echoes of one at the time the tower was built, when critics viewed the 14-story structure as too extravagant.
Plans originally called for enclosing the tower's lower 72 feet in glass to protect it from the elements. But the Millennium Carillon Foundation, the now-defunct group that raised private funds for the project, faced mounting costs when founders decided to make the tower accessible to the public.
In order to unveil the tower during the millennium year, the foundation had to scrap the enclosure, among other features.
The city later took over its operations, completed several unfinished items and paid off the foundation's debt.
Today, its advocates see the tower as a source of community pride, emblematic of "a town that gets things done." Widely-used images of the tower and the carillon have elevated the city to an international spotlight, they say.
"Abandoning the carillon and tower would be a great loss to our community, a public embarrassment and detrimental to future gifting," said Marilyn Schweitzer, who has lived in Naperville for 30 years.
Jim Boyajian, who sat on the council when the city took over the responsibility of finishing the carillon, cautioned that officials shouldn't "kick the can down the road."
"Don't put the decision off," he said. "Have the guts to stand up and decide what you're going to do and then be accountable for it. To delay the decision is the wrong thing for those people that have invested in this in the past and those taxpayers that are going to have to invest in it in the future."
• Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson contributed to this report.