Leaning Tower of Niles’ walls crumbling, village ponders fix
BY IGOR STUDENKOV For Sun-Times Media August 30, 2013 6:04PM
The Leaning Tower of Niles was completed in 1934 by industrialist Robert Ilg. At 94 feet tall, it is roughly half the size of the Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower's walls are in poor shape and need repairs. | Sun-Times Media Files
Updated: October 1, 2013 6:50AM
The walls of the iconic Leaning Tower of Niles are falling apart, and the Niles Village Board plans to do something about it.
At its meeting Aug. 27, the board signed up the firm of Wiss, Janney and Eistner Associates Inc. to conduct an engineering review of the landmark. The firm will determine the full extent of the tower’s damage and how much it would cost to repair it.
The Leaning Tower of Niles has been a part of the village since 1934. Originally a centerpiece of Ilg Hot Air Ventilation Company’s employee park, it was donated to the current-day Leaning Tower YMCA in 1964. But as the decades wore on, the YMCA has had trouble maintaining the tower.
In 1995, the YMCA agreed to lease the tower to the Village of Niles for $1 a year. The village quickly launched a two-year project to repair and improve the tower and the surrounding plaza.
But since then, the tower’s condition has declined.
Village Manager Steven Vinezeano said that while the tower is structurally sound, the walls are getting worn down.
“There is freeze-thaw damage to concrete elements, cracks in columns, and dislodged pieces of concrete,” he said.
As the board moved to approve the contract with Wiss, Janney and Eistner, trustees Chris Hanusiak and Rosemary Palicki wondered if the village should be spending the money to repair something it doesn’t own outright. Trustee Joe LeVerde passionately defended the expenditure, arguing that preserving a Niles landmark was worth it.
Mayor Andrew Przybylo tried to strike a balance, urging the board to wait until Wiss, Janney and Eistner returns with a report. The trustees approved the contract unanimously, but it is clear that the debate is far from over.
As part of its 2014 budget, Niles approved $40,000 for tower repairs and $35,000 to repair the Leaning Tower Fountain. But as the Department of Public Services soon realized that the damage to the tower may be more extensive than originally thought, and that $40,000 may not be enough. Before asking for more money, department director Scott Jochim wanted to determine exactly how much he would need.
The contract with Wiss, Janney and Eistner will be paid out of the tower repairs budget, leaving $17,000 for repairs.
As the resolution came up for vote, Hanusiak wondered if repairing the tower was a good long-term investment.
“In 1995, the village invested [millions] in repairs,”We keep investing money into [the tower] and it’s not even ours.”
This prompted LeVerde to give an impassioned defense of the tower, arguing that it is a unique landmark that deserves village’s care.
“It’s a landmark, and we worry if we’re spending too much money on it,” he said. “It’s been part of our community from day one.”
Palicki said that until four days before the meeting, she was under impression that the village owned the tower outright, so she was happy to approve the funds for repairs. But now that she knew better, she urged the board to carefully consider the best course of action.
“The community needs to determine how much commitment Niles is willing to make,” said Palicki.
She was particularly concerned about what would happen in 2059, when the village’s lease runs out. The Ilg Company donated the tower to the YMCA under the condition it wouldn’t be demolished until that year.
In the end, the board approved the contract with Wiss, Janney and Eistner unanimously, postponing the discussion for another time.
But whatever the board ultimately decides, one thing it can’t do stop the upkeep of the tower and the plaza altogether. According to Vinezeano, keeping them in good condition is one of the terms of the lease.
“[Under the lease], tenant agrees to keep premises in good condition and repair at its sole expense,” he said.