The North Riverside water standpipe, tucked away behind Costco near the intersection of 26th Street and Harlem Avenue, was built in 2000 courtesy of a $3.5 million state grant. The tower is also an important part of Riverside’s water system. | Bob Uphues/Editor

The village of North Riverside later this summer will embark on a long-awaited refurbishment of its 2.5 million gallon water standpipe, a critical piece of water system infrastructure built 23 years ago and which has been targeted for an overhaul for years, but which has been deferred due to tight finances.

On Feb. 20, trustees voted 5-1 to award a $1.5 million contract to Neumann Company Contractors Inc. of Merrillan, Wisconsin, to refurbish the standpipe both inside and out. Trustees also voted 5-1 to award a $40,000 design engineering contract for the project to Novotny Engineering and a $34,440 contract to Lansing, Michigan-based Nelson Tank to perform inspections throughout the refurbishment project.

The lone vote against the contracts came from Trustee Marybelle Mandel, who expressed a preference to defer coating the standpipe’s exterior in order to keep pursuing possible grant funding.

Mandel pointed to a recommendation in an inspection report delivered to the village in July 2021 from Dixon Engineering, stating that the exterior sandblasting and coating could be “delayed until aesthetics dictate.”

Dixon’s assessment of the exterior was that it was in “fair” condition, but that there were “spot failures to the substrate” and “numerous coating failures throughout.” When the inspection report was issued, it also recommended completing the work “in one to two years.” 

The North Riverside water standpipe, tucked away behind Costco near the intersection of 26th Street and Harlem Avenue, was built in 2000 courtesy of a $3.5 million state grant. | Bob Uphues/Editor

“Can we just get by with just doing [the inside] work … and we can continue with the outside work once we do have the final assistance guaranteed?” Mandel asked prior to the vote on Feb. 20.

Mandel said the exterior work would cost about $225,000, but that figure is not so clear in the bid submitted Neumann Company Contractors. The bid states the exterior painting will cost $213,000. However, the exterior must be sandblasted prior to painting.

The bid combines the interior and exterior sandblasting as one item, costing $925,600, which includes the entire water tower being encased in a dust containment system during the project.

The interior sandblasting alone would not require such a containment system, according to John Fitzgerald of Novotny Engineering, the village’s longtime engineering firm.

However, deferring the exterior work until later will still require the water to be drained from the tank and refilled both times, Fitzgerald said, which takes the tower out of service twice for long periods of time.

The village of Riverside also is a partner in the North Riverside standpipe and is responsible for paying 25% of the cost for refurbishment. Both villages have the full expense budgeted this year.

North Riverside Public Works Director Vince Ranieri told the Landmark a standpipe like North Riverside’s ought to be refurbished every 15 years in order for it to attain its 100-year life expectancy. Deferring maintenance might jeopardize that long-term life and risks failure requiring an emergency response.

“We’ve pushed it off as long as we can push it off, and now it needs to be done,” Ranieri told the Landmark. “We can’t lose the standpipe. It’d be as if taking the heart out of someone’s body.”

The project, which is expected to begin between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, is a complicated one that will take 90 days to complete, said Ranieri. It requires the village to secure multiple backup water supplies in the event of an emergency.

North Riverside will continue to be fed water by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission. There’s a standpipe bypass system through which water can be pumped using electric pumps.

In the event of a power outage, there are diesel generators as a backup to that system. The village’s water system also cross-connects with the systems in Riverside, Berwyn and Broadview and as a last resort, North Riverside can be fed from a Brookfield water tower.

“Water systems are designed to be redundant,” Fitzgerald said. “But you don’t want to take them offline [often] because that’s the normal way it works, and having water in the tank creates the water pressure for North Riverside.”

The first step in the project will be to erect the dust containment barrier and drain the 150-foot tall, 54-foot wide tank, which alone will take three to four days. The surfaces inside and out will be sandblasted, and workers will check the integrity of the joints and welds on the steel structure and make needed repairs.

Workers will also need to repair the standpipe’s cathodic protection system, which has been broken since summer 2021. That system helps prevent interior corrosion. They will also add a water mixing system, which was not available in 2000, and allows water to be moved inside the tank to prevent ice buildup in below-freezing temperatures.

When that work is complete the interior and exterior will get an epoxy coating before the standpipe is refilled at a rate of about 300 to 400 gallons per minute. Work is expected to be completed sometime in November.

According to Ranieri, the exact color of the new exterior paint job hasn’t been finalized but is likely to be similar to the existing coating, which camouflages it somewhat.

The Joe Rizza Ford advertisement, for a long-gone car dealership, would not be part of the new coating. Rather the contract amount allows for the village logo to be painted on opposite sides of the standpipe.