Big decisions in store for Kenilworth’s water plant

The bad news Kenilworth Village Manager Patrick Brennan got from his water plant team July 21 didn’t really surprise him. When the plant you depend on to draw in, clean and pump out an average of half a million gallons of water daily to your residents is 86 years old, mechanical problems are too common to be surprises.

Still, the word was unquestionably dire. Neither the 7.5 horsepower water intake pump – on emergency duty while the plant’s failing main 10 horsepower pump was again in the shop – nor the plant’s final pump, a 20 horsepower backup, could start.

With the water stored in Kenilworth’s elevated water tank and underground storage nearing depletion, Kenilworth turned to northern neighbor Winnetka for help, and that community immediately stepped in to fill the gap.

Kenilworth quickly got its malfunctioning pumps back in service, began drawing in Lake Michigan water from a quarter mile off Kenilworth beach, cleaning it and pumping it out to residents. Most didn’t notice the difference, although Brennan said some households in southeast Kenilworth saw their water pressure drop temporarily.

Today there’s a gap where the 10 horsepower pump once sat. The 1976 vintage piece of equipment is probably down for the count, Brennan said, since it’s old enough that replacement parts are unlikely to be found. The 20 horsepower and 7.5 horsepower pumps are currently being used in a cycle, in order to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the chances of another catastrophic breakdown.

But the multi-pump failure highlights the increasing difficulties Kenilworth has, as it keeps its aging lakefront facility at 1 Kenilworth Ave. – hidden from passersby under what appears to be a plaza at the Sheridan road terminus of Kenilworth Avenue – providing water to businesses and roughly 800 households. Those numbers, coincidentally, make Kenilworth’s plant possibly the smallest working plant on the North Shore.

Within the next two months, village administrators and trustees expect to take make a big decision; whether to upgrade the plant to modern standards, or shut its doors forever and buy the village’s water from someone else, almost certainly Wilmette.

The decision is a crucial one, Village President Bill Russell said Aug. 7. “You can’t defer water plant decisions like this, especially when pumps fail. It’s not like road work where you could, maybe, hold off. When those pumps fail, the water doesn’t flow. So we need to see whether we can make water delivery to residents more efficient.”

Right now, the village is waiting to hear from Iowa-based Stanley Engineering on the cost benefits of buying water from neighboring Wilmette, rather than continuing to produce it. The same company is doing a design study, the roughly $151,400 cost of which is being shared by the two villages, of a potential remote pumping station that could route water from Wilmette’s Lake Avenue water plant to Kenilworth.

This isn’t the first time Kenilworth officials have worried about the plant’s future. In 2000, the village considered decommissioning it and buying water from elsewhere, but trustees at that time decided it wasn’t cost-effective.

Instead, in 2001 they took out $5 million in alternate revenue bonds to bring the plant up to what would then be minimum operating standards by 2003. The renovations were completed in 2004, but they weren’t all encompassing, Brennan said. For instance, they didn’t include upgrading all the pumps.

The current board revived the idea of going to a water purchase plan last year, while trustees were reviewing village infrastructure needs. They hired Stanley for the cost-benefit study, then looked south to Wilmette and eventually completed the design study agreement in February, again going with Stanley.

Brennan said Aug. 8 that the two studies should be in village hands sometime in September and early October, at which point trustees will have to make decisions based on what they find in the documents.

No matter what they decide, Brennan and his staff will have a financial balancing act to undertake.

“If the board decides in October that they are going to buy water from Wilmette, I need to make just enough decisions on the water plant to keep it going until everything can be done to begin water purchases,” he said.

“If they decide that they believe it’s more cost-effective to upgrade our water plant and continue producing water ourselves, then there are a host of different (financial) decisions to be made.”

Meanwhile, beach-going residents make use of showers and patio facilities that they may not even realize are located inside and next to the plant. Yoga classes take place on the plaza that acts as the plant’s roof.

And, until trustees make their final decision, Brennan will continue to keep a wary eye on 1 Kenilworth Ave.

Tags:

Liquid Asset

What: Kenilworth water plant

Address: 1 Kenilworth Ave. Kenilworth, 60043

Age: dedicated 1928

Pumps: roughly 500,000 gallons daily LIQUID ASSET

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