By Bob Uphues
Although there are still plenty of details to be worked out, Brookfield trustees on May 13 expressed clear support for improving and better protecting the fountain at the Veterans Memorial Circle at Eight Corners.
What still needs to be sorted through is exactly what memorial elements will be included at the circle beyond a larger, more impressive fountain. Whatever the solution is, however, it seems clear the circle itself will remain a veterans' memorial in the future.
"I still say the memorial should remain there and I believe it will," said Village President Kit Ketchmark in a phone interview last week. "Maybe we can tweak the design a little bit."
Last week's discussion sprang from a proposal from village management to improve the fountain as part of a larger road construction project and street-lighting upgrade along Broadway Avenue this summer.
Staff presented trustees with two options for replacing the fountain. The first essentially kept the existing footprint of the fountain, repairing the masonry, pouring new sidewalks, replacing the fountain's spray nozzle and adding LED lights to beef up its visual impact and adding metal bollards to protect fountain from vehicles. The cost for that option was pegged at about $106,000.
The second option – enlarging the fountain, raising the center section and installing a nozzle that could create a 10-foot high spray and adding LED lights to the fountain, replacing the sidewalk and adding monolithic stones around the perimeter of the circle to protect the fountain – is estimated to cost up to $250,000.
The improvements would be funded through the Eight Corners TIF District, said Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, who said improving the fountain also would contribute to the goal of spurring economic development at Eight Corners.
"If you want to make the argument that this will help make this business district a little more viable, a little compelling, this is a TIF-eligible expense and we do have the money to do it," Wiberg said.
While the starting point for the discussion was the fountain alone, it became clear that trustees felt strongly about maintaining a veterans' memorial at the circle but had serious concerns about access to the site and pedestrian safety.
"It just frustrates me beyond belief how that place is treated today," said Trustee Edward Cote, who served in the U.S. Navy for eight years. "I lived here five years before I realized this was supposed to be a veterans' memorial. I had no idea that's what that was."
Cote said he favored easier access to the circle, as did Trustee Michael Garvey, who also said better signage might make the circle's purpose as a memorial more visible.
In addition to the fountain, there are several small monuments bearing plaques commemorating those who died while serving in the nation's 20th-century wars. The plaques aren't visible from the roadway. Set into the ground around the fountain, the plaques must be viewed from close-up.
Garvey favored leaving the monuments part of the memorial at the circle in the future, saying police could shut down traffic on the one or two days a year when ceremonies honoring veterans might be held there.
"To say we're going to shut this off completely from access I think takes away from a little bit of what it is," Garvey said. "There's veterans that have a very strong attachment to the circle."
Trustees Nicole Gilhooley and Katie Kaluzny both expressed concern about increasing accessibility to the circle, both because of pedestrian safety concerns and that increasing access might make the circle appear to be a public park, when in fact it was erected in the late 1950s strictly as a traffic-control feature. The circle was dedicated as a veterans' memorial in the early 1970s when the first fountain was installed.
The existing fountain is a replacement, because the original was demolished by a vehicle crashing into it around 2006. Impaired drivers have driven into the circle and hit the fountain multiple times over the years, most recently in early 2018.
"If it's too dangerous, because we're afraid cars are going to run into that, if we need to put up bollards to protect the fountain, why are we putting people out there?" Gilhooley said. "I just think at any time of day … it's very dangerous to cross there."
The village does have an actual park dedicated to veterans – Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Sunnyside Avenue -- about two blocks south of the circle. Formerly a vacant lot, the village dedicated the park in the early 2000s, but it is largely underused.
Wiberg said he didn't believe the veterans' memorial at the circle was serving that purpose very well and that, because of the safety concerns, a place like Veterans Park, which is handicapped-accessible made a lot of sense.
Initially, Wiberg said he'd hoped the fountain improvements could be accomplished this summer. In light of the broader discussion of the circle as a veterans' memorial site, Wiberg said there's no need to rush it. He said he will be reaching out to local veterans to talk about the issue.
While maintaining a veterans' memorial at Eight Corners via the fountain, officials also might consider moving the war monuments from the circle to Veterans Memorial Park to increase visibility and access and provide a more contemplative setting for them.
"Obviously this is an issue," Ketchmark said. "Memorials have been an issue for decades around town. But we're caretakers and we need to make sure they continue on. It's really hard for some people to understand the meaning of these memorials [to veterans]. It's powerful."