Written by Pam DeFiglio
When the idea of spending as much as $40,000 for a study to maintain Niles' Leaning Tower came up at Tuesday's village board meeting, trustees had questions.
The idea of tearing down the Tower even briefly surfaced, though Village Manager Steve Vinezeano said after the meeting that the village would not have the authority to tear it down.
Trustee Chris Hanusiak noted that the village had spent more than $1 million in the 1990s on repairing the structure, questioning why more money was now being requested. The village does not own it, but leases it from the YMCA.
"We keep investing money into it, and it’s not ours," he said. He also observed that he understood the $40,000 was for repairs, but the proposal in front of the board was to approve $23,000 for an engineering study in order to determine the cost of repairs.
1996 renovation cost $1.23 million
He explained the Ilg family, which built the Tower, donated it to the YMCA, which could not afford to maintain it, and the Village stepped in to do that.
Vinezeano clarified after the meeting, and after researching the issue, that the village spent $1.23 million on the last major renovation of the Tower in 1996. Of that, $223,494 went towards repairs to the Tower, and $1,004,260 went to landscaping and hardscaping improvements around the base.
Scott Jochim, director of public services, said that included the fountains and reflecting pool.
Vinezeano also clarified that the village leases from the YMCA, so if the village decided to break the lease, the Tower would be the YMCA's responsibility.
Commenting on the need for an engineering study, Mayor Andrew Przybylo said, "We have to look at it because we can’t afford not to."
"If we need another TIF (tax increment financing district), we’ll have to look at that. This $23,000 will give us information on whether we want to keep the Leaning Tower," he said, adding that once the cost to rehab is known, the village could make a decision on whether to tear it down or rehabilitate it.
Director of Public Services Scott Jochim said after the meeting that the latex patches added in the 1990s are now cracking. The request to the board also said flaked-off pieces are in danger of falling to the ground.
LoVerde champions the Tower
The mention of possibly tearing down the Tower prompted a spirited defense from Trustee Joe LoVerde, who said, "It’s the only one in the US...It’s a monument, a landmark, and we worry if we’re going to spend money to fix it."
No other community in the U.S. has a Leaning Tower, he said, and the village could do a better job of publicizing it.
Hanusiak clarified he wasn't talking about tearing down the Tower.
How much of an investment should village make?
Trustee Rosemary Palicki said, "I may be last person in Niles who didn’t know we don’t own that property," and observed the village "has to determine, what commitment does the village have, if we already put in $1.2 million in the 90s. I’m not against it, I don’t want to tear down the Leaning Tower. We do not own the property, so what kind of investment are we willing to make."
At the end of the lease in 2058, there’s no guarantee the village would still have it, she suggested.
"We need to look at all those
aspects," she said, and Przybylo assured the board the village would do that.
The board voted 6-0 to approve the $23,000 for the engineering study.
At one point, Trustee George Alpogianis pointed out the Tower was used to hide a water tower. Jochim, the public services director, said after the meeting that the water tower is not in use, and it is not connected to the Village of Niles water system.