North Park Begins Rebuilding Riverbank

Post a Comment » Written on September 1st, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Cathy Norman Peterson

CHICAGO, IL (September 1, 2009) – A joint project between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and North Park University to reinforce the banks of Chicago River’s North Branch is slated for completion in late September, says Carl Balsam, executive vice president and chief financial officer at North Park.

The river runs through campus, and the project will replace an old piling that retains the riverbank between Argyle Street and the campus footbridge near Carmen and Spaulding avenues.

The work became necessary after a severe rainstorm in August 2001 forced the piling to lean into the river. At the same time, university officials noticed a large fissure in the parking lot behind Anderson Residence Hall.

“The bank literally was breaking off,” says Balsam. “That just continued to get worse and worse.” Because the river takes a small turn under the bridge near Argyle, water slams up against the piling during big storms.

After contacting the Water Reclamation District, which oversees area waterways, North Park learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction over the piling. The university applied for federal funding assistance through the Army Corps’s “emergency stream bank remediation” program. The application was granted, which meant the government would pay approximately two-thirds of the costs of repairing the riverbank, and North Park one-third.

“At the time, it was conceived that piling was in danger,” says Balsam. “It has taken from 2001 until 2009. We’ve been trying to get this done for eight years.”

Balsam says the work is not related to flooding in September 2008 that forced students to evacuate from the Burgh and Anderson residence halls and temporarily closed the cafeteria in Magnuson Campus Center. “The fact that we had a flood last fall and the timing of this Army Corps thing finally coming to fruition this spring—those are totally unrelated events.”

Balsam adds that despite extensive damage to Magnuson, plans for the project were not modified.

Although North Park’s application for federal assistance was granted several years ago, the Army Corps twice redirected resources that had been allocated to the project to other emergencies. First, funds were diverted to Iraq war reconstruction. Then in 2005 funds were redirected to Hurricane Katrina relief in Louisiana. Finally the money was re-allocated to domestic projects like North Park’s.

The proximity of Magnuson to the river prevented the Army Corps from maneuvering construction equipment behind the Campus Center where the pilings are weakened. Replacing the pilings outright would have required that a platform be built in the riverbed from which to maneuver the equipment.  There was also some concern that new piling might threaten the Magnuson’s footings, if they drove the piles too close.

Instead, the old piling will be cut off, and the bank will be supported with large boulders. “They call it revetment,” says Balsam, “which means it’s a series of large boulders and smaller stone, instead of using piling.”

The bank will be terraced between Magnuson and the campus footbridge near Carmen and Spaulding avenues. The path from the footbridge between Burgh Hall and Magnuson also will be reconstructed to match the paths on the north side of campus. That path will be lined with brick pavers, similar light posts, and a wrought-iron fence on the side of the path closest to the river.

Trees were removed in order to fix the piling. “It was really the scrub trees that were putting pressure on that piling,” Balsam says. “In fact, at the far end, before they cut it down, it was very clear that the water had undercut the piling, and this huge tree was really responsible for pushing it out.”

Balsam says nearly all the work has been completed to repair damage caused by last year’s flooding in Magnuson. That work was not connected to the project of reinforcing the riverbanks.

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