A plan to transform the small, circular south well house on the historic water tower campus into exhibit space for the Riverside Historical Museum received a bit of unexpected help recently, in the form of state capital improvements grant.

As a result, Riverside will be able to expand its historic water tower restoration project, which originally called for limited renovation of the south well house. The village’s Board of Trustees voted to apply the money to the project at its regular business meeting on June 20.

State Rep. Calvin Giles (D-8th), whose district includes Riverside north of 31st Street and east of Desplaines Avenue, recommended Riverside for the $75,000 grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The money is for capital improvement projects in the village, and at the meeting Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. presented trustees with four options for possible projects.

Two of the options were related to the water tower campus restoration. The first involved interior renovations to the south well house in order to make it a usable village building, and the second proposed installing exterior lighting at the top of the water tower. The other projects included installing more signage at major entry points to Riverside and replacing and redesigning the facade of the Riverside Police Department.

Trustees were unanimous in their support for putting the grant money toward the water tower project, specifically the south well house. Under the original specifications of the restoration project, only the roof and windows of that building were to be replaced and, according to Wiaduck, no other money had been set aside for further renovations.

Public Works Director Michael Hullihan said that much more work needs to be done in order to make the building, which is meant to be used in the future by the Historical Commission for the Riverside Historical Museum, inhabitable. The floor needs to be leveled, and a new heating and air-conditioning system needs to be installed, as well as new lighting and electrical wiring, and a security system. Hullihan estimated that the project would cost the full $75,000.

Because no other funding is currently available to complete those renovations, many trustees said it was their duty to help the Historical Commission.

“I think we made a commitment to the Historic Commission,” Trustee Kevin Smith said, “and this is a great way to fulfill it to them, by doing up the south well house properly.”

The Historical Commission has long operated its Historical Museum in the north
well house at Centennial Park. The commission had eyed the old pump house at the
base of the water tower for its future home,
but the village board decided that the space
was best suited for expanding program
space for the Recreation Department. The pump house was decommissioned last
year, when Riverside switched to its present
water system and abandoned the old
water tower.

While the south well house was not the Historical Commission’s first choice for a museum annex, the building will give it room to display some of the many historic artifacts now simply kept hidden in storage since there’s virtually no exhibit space in the north well house museum.

The second priority for the board was to replace the exterior lighting for the water tower. The top of the water tower was lighted before the restoration project, but Hullihan said that lighting system had to be dismantled to make way for construction and is no longer operable. Replacing the lighting would cost approximately $45,000.

While trustees asserted that they wanted to see the south well house renovated before any other work was done with the grant money, there was talk of possibly being able to complete both projects with funds from the new grant. All proposed costs were tentative, and could possibly turn out to be lower in the final estimates.

Trustees also considered the possibility of using funds from the Historical Commission’s budget to supplement renovations to the south well house, thereby allowing the village to do both projects.