Now that the exterior of Riverside’s historic water tower has been restored, work will begin this spring on reclaiming the landscape of the tower’s setting, Centennial Park. The first phase, approved by the village’s Board of Trustees on Feb. 21, will be relandscaping the area around the east well house, which serves as the Riverside Historical Museum.
According to Village Forester Michael Collins, the plan for the east well house planting will be the first step in creating what he termed a “woodland garden” setting for the historic buildings in the park.
In addition to the water tower, there are three other structures located in the park. One is the former pump house, which is attached to the water tower and will be remodeled to house the village’s Recreation Department. The other two are former well houses. One has served as the historical museum for years. The other has been designated as an auxiliary museum building, one that can house permanent and rotating exhibits.
Collins said that Centennial Park’s landscaping had become overgrown and that the shrubs and some trees hid the architecture of the buildings.
“To me the neat thing about Centennial Park is the architecture,” Collins said. “Initially the plants were a bit overwhelming and was a hodgepodge of classic ornamental plants. We’re switching from that basic design to more of a setting where we’ll have a woodland garden to beautify the area and expose the buildings.”
Part of the goal, Collins said was for people to be able to “see through” Centennial Park more and provide “flashes of nice color” and picturesque plants. He also would like to create more of a four-seasons garden in the park, which will not only maintain visual interest all year, but provide shelter and food for the park’s wildlife.
The cost of planting the garden border around the east well house was estimated at $2,800. The Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce is donating $2,500 to that cause.
While the first phase of planting in Centennial Park is underway, the village may be working on a complete renovation of the entire Centennial Park campus area, if it’s successful in winning a substantial federal grant.
Public Works Director Michael Hullihan last August submitted a grant proposal to the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program to fund a wide-ranging improvement of the water tower campus that would include landscaping, pruning, lighting, brick paving on Pine and East avenues and the removal of a service drive adjacent to the pump house.
Hullihan estimated the total cost of the project at $420,000. If the village wins the grant, the federal government would contribute up to $336,000 of the total cost.
“The whole idea of this … is to [create] a spatial relationship between the train station and the water tower campus,” Hullihan said. “It’s a gateway to the whole village. In the past, because of functional purposes [of operating the water tower and supporting buildings], we broke that spatial relationship.”
Use of brick pavers on the streets could serve to unify the area and create a village commons, Hullihan said.
“The big thing is to make [Centennial Park] link to the railroad like other villages have done,” Hullihan added.
While plans for the $200,000 renovation of the interior of the pump house are moving ahead as planned and will be completed this spring and summer, the renovation project for the west well house is in something of a state of limbo.
Last year, Riverside received word that it had qualified for a $75,000 grant through State Rep. Calvin Giles (D-8th) to turn the west well house into an exhibit space for the Riverside Historical Museum. But, the state has so far refused to release the funds, and village officials are no longer sure the village will ever see the money.
“We have no way to tell when that’s going to happen,” said Village Manager Kathleen Rush. “Until the governor releases the funds there’s no guarantee.”
Because of the delay, the village has delayed seeking architectural drawings for the renovation.
Once those are completed, the village would then have to bid the project’s construction. It will likely be months before any construction begins on the west well house, Rush said.
In part as a result of those delays, Public Works Director Michael Hullihan said arrangements are being made for the chandelier from the Louis Sullivan-designed Babson Estate to be displayed in the east well house upon its return to the historical museum in April.
The chandelier, considered one of the museum’s most important artifacts, has been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago since last March in anticipation of renovation to the water tower and well houses.
The village board on Feb. 21 extended the loan agreement with the Art Institute until April 15 so that Hullihan can construct a means to display the chandelier in the east well house. When the west well house is renovated, the chandelier will be transferred there.