Glencoe’s bluff staircase in need of repairs
Engineering consultant John Foster, right, peers at plans held by bluff staircase repair project manager Rich Talkowski, as they both stand in an area where they plan to add a step or other barrier to prevent water from running down the staircase, weakening it. |Irv Leavitt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:55PM
GLENCOE — A couple of summer park district workers recently dug some $140,000 holes in the ground.
What engineers saw when they climbed into those holes on Sept. 5 told them the Glencoe Park District’s repair of the Glencoe Beach’s troubled bluff staircase probably won’t be as costly as feared.
“The foundational work is in sound condition,” Interim Park District Executive Director Steve Nagle said Friday. “The good news is it’s going to cost less than if we were going to replace all the footings.”
That would have been a big deal.
“It’s pretty much the difference between $60,000 and $200,000,” project manager Rich Talkowski said Aug. 29 to architectural engineer Jan Blok, owner of The Structural Group Limited, of Deerfield. They had joined several other need-to-know people at the massive staircase.
“I know you guys don’t like to give numbers, but that’s pretty much what it is,” Talkowski said.
He got no argument.
They already knew that moisture had seeped into the east wall of the staircase’s top flight, weakening it. What they didn’t know was whether the footings were crumbly, too.
Talkowski, of STR Building Resources/Specialty Engineering Group, will run the park district repair job that Blok’s firm designs.
If the footings were bad, great pains would need to have been taken to keep the entire top flight from sliding down the bluff to the beach during reconstruction.
The district likely would have had enough money to cover the job if the test-holes news had been bad. In July, district Finance Director Carol Mensinger noted that fund balances were a little high, and district commissioners adopted a policy Aug. 28 that encourages they move excess dollars to a capital fund. The first transfer of cash was for $200,000.
Good footings or bad, Nagle agreed with Talkowski, Blok and Blok’s fellow engineer John Foster that almost all of the entire east wall of the top flight will have to be taken down and rebuilt. That’s eight feet, top to bottom, for a length of 15 descending steps. Some of the steps may need work, too.
The same stones will be reused, though not in the same places, to save the extra money that exact restoration costs.
There will also be a scheme to guide away the streams of water that have apparently weakened the staircase. During bad rainstorms, water roars down the south leg of the road that leads to — and past — the staircase. The floods turn east and go between the west side of the “Halfway House,” the big shelter made of the same stone slabs as the staircase, and the staircase itself.
Then the water descends the staircase, continuing across the beach to Lake Michigan.
“Thirty feet wide and a foot deep” through the sand, in 2011, the last wet year, Nagle said.
How to stop that water infiltration? The engineers want to install a low barrier blocking the water from getting between the halfway house and the top of the staircase. They have several designs in mind, including one that would require slightly altering the grade of the road to force the water down its middle, then guide it down the road to the north, bypassing the staircase — and the Halfway House.
Glencoe Public Works Director Dave Mau attended the Aug. 29 site meeting, and was enlisted to examine the hydraulics of the area to make sure the engineers understand it correctly — and perhaps to improve it.
“We want to make sure we address it and solve it,” Blok said.
His firm has already found that the Halfway House — the symbol of the park district — has sustained some damage over the years, now believed comparatively minor.
The district hasn’t attacked that problem yet, but it’s apparent to Talkowski and the engineers that water doesn’t do the shelter any good.
“What killed that,” said Talkowski, pointing to the staircase, then the Halfway House, “is going to kill this.”