While members of the Riverside Historical Commission move forward with seeking estimates for a structural engineering study to see if there’s a future for their idea of opening a water tower observation deck, it’s unclear whether the idea has any support beyond the commission.
In October, Village Trustee Joseph Ballerine questioned the commission spending any money to complete such a study, indicating he thought that the idea of an observation deck was a pipe dream.
“I hate to diminish … or rain on a commission’s parade when they’re doing stuff, but at a certain point in time I think it’s our responsibility to tell the Historical Commission that we don’t have millions of dollars to turn the water tower into an observation deck,” Ballerine remarked to his colleagues on the village board at their meeting Oct. 17. “Nor should we be spending money for reports or using our fire chief’s time to run after a dream that I don’t think can possibly be done.”
After being approached by Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, the village board’s liaison to the Historical Commission, Village Manager Peter Scalera reached out to the architectural firm of Antunovich & Associates to get a sense of what an engineering study would cost.
Scalera also said he talked with Fire Chief Spencer Kimura and building department Director Bob Caraher about accessibility, safety and building code implications of having an observation deck.
“I assigned it to them, not as a priority, but as time permits them to do it,” Scalera told village trustees. “I called Antunovich [but] it was only a couple of phone calls to find out how much it would cost to get a structural report.”
Scalera said that Antunovich estimated that an engineering study would cost about $6,000.
“We just sent a request for the cost to complete it,” said Scalera. “The fire chief and our building director would be responsible for looking into any of the safety codes regarding accessibility to the observation deck. I do not know whether they’ve had any time to dedicate to that.”
According to Historical Commission Chairwoman Judith Cizek, the commission is also seeking other estimates for such a study.
Scalera in an interview last week expressed wariness about the prospect of opening an observation deck at the water tower. Beyond the cost of such an effort, there’s the liability involved.
“Any time you put people up high, I have fears of someone getting hurt,” said Scalera.
Cizek sees a water tower observation deck as a key element for turning the Centennial Park/water tower campus into a visitors’ center that would attract tourists.
“We think it’s key to revitalizing the economic community,” Cizek said last week. “If people have something to really visit, they’ll spend more time here and more money here.”
But the Historical Commission is an advisory body to the village board and all of its funds are considered part of the village’s general operating fund. The trouble is that a good deal of the money in the commission’s fund is money the commission has raised on its own since the village stopped funding it in 2007.
“We’ve been fundraising for the Centennial Square campus, which is to be devoted to Riverside history, since 2007 and have gotten private donations toward that end,” said Cizek, who believes the commission should be able to access that cash whenever it wants.
In October, Trustee Jean Sussman suggested that the village board should still have the final say over expenditures from the general fund.
“I understand the Historical Commission is its own entity, that in some sense it’s a restricted fund,” Sussman said. “Yet it’s still a commission of the village and the commissioners are appointed by President [Michael] Gorman and ratified by this board, so who decides how the money is going to be expended?
“I would think it’s still under the direction of the village board.”
Sacchi argued that the village board should not have control over money the commissioned raised privately.
“Years ago the village actually stopped funding the museum and so, consequently, they went out and held fundraising activities and raised money on their own,” Sacchi said. “I think it’s morally wrong to tell them that they can’t spend it on something they want to.”