Leaning Tower of Niles in need of repair
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The Niles Village Board of Trustees has hired an engineering firm to determine the cost of needed repairs to the Leaning Tower of Niles.
The 94-foot replica tower, which is on the grounds of the Leaning Tower YMCA, 6300 W. Touhy Ave., is about half the size of the 177-foot Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was built in 1334.
Village manager Steven Vinezeano said that the board approved a $23,000 contract with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates to conduct an engineering review of the structure and determine the cost of repairs.
There are numerous areas of deteriorating concrete at the tower and several areas where there is potential for concrete to fall to the ground, Vinezeano said. He said that there are cracks in the columns as well as dislodged pieces of concrete.
Vinezeano said that the tower, which was built in 1934, is deteriorating because it hasn’t been repaired since the late 1990s.
"Over the last several years everyone, every municipality was cutting back because of the economy, and in our case we saw several reductions to our preventative maintenance funding," Vinezeano said. "I’m a firm believer that if you can do preventative maintenance, you end up with bigger cost savings than if you didn’t do anything."
Vinezeano said that the village leases the tower from the YMCA for $1. He said that YMCA obtained the land from manufacturer Robert Ilg in 1964 under the condition that the tower be maintained through the year 2059. However, since then the Leaning Tower YMCA had its own trouble maintaining the tower it leased it to the village in 1995, Vinezeano said.
The last major facelift that occurred at the tower was a part of the village’s centennial celebration in 1999. Vinezeano said that former mayor Nicholas Blase began a $1 million renovation project in 1995 that improved the structure, the facade and the surrounding areas. A pool and four fountains were built as part of the improvements to the Leaning Tower Plaza.
A plaque at the tower says that the replica was built as a utility tower to store and hide water filtration tanks. The design was selected to honor scientist Galileo. The tower has a 7.4-foot tilt. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has a 15.2-foot tilt.
A plaque on the replica tower says "This tower is dedicated to all who contribute and strive to make the Earth and its unlimited resources materially and scientifically a better place for mankind."
Vinezeano said that the village’s 2014 budget contains about $40,000 for repairs to the tower but that the Public Services Department that that amount would not be enough.
"The people who initially inspected it said that we needed more than $40,000 to fix it up to prevent some of the falling concrete," Vinezeano said. "There are some areas where there is deteriorating concrete and there is a possibility of concrete falling, but I think some people are making it seem like the Leaning Tower is falling apart."
"Here we have an iconic piece of art and we have to do what we can to maintain it," Vinezeano said. "The facility took a back seat because a lot of preventative maintenance funding in the village was not there, but this was everything including buildings, roofs and even the Leaning Tower."
Vinezeano said that the tower is fenced off and that visitors are prohibited from entering it. "We stopped letting people go up there in the 1990s," he said. "It’s sort of a weird climb and there is no railing there, and we wanted to limit any cases of liability."
Trustee George Alpogianis said that the tower should be maintained because it is something that Niles has been noted for.
"One of the trustees didn’t realize that we didn’t own it," Alpogianis said. "They didn’t realize that it has always been associated with the YMCA. But what are we going to do? Tear it down?"
Vinezeano said that the tower is an iconic piece of Niles. "Culturally it is a wonderful piece," he said. "I’ve been told by everybody that there is nothing like it in town, so we should be maintaining it.
I think the board will ultimately decide that they want to keep it and preserve it. I mean, it’s on our village logo. It’s a part of Niles."