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Riverbank Gets a Facelift . . . and Some Reconstructive Surgery

North Park University Campus Footbridge

Work begins to repair the banks of the North Branch on North Park University’s campus

CHICAGO (June 29, 2009) – While students may be gone for summer vacation, activity on the grounds of North Park University has by no means ceased as construction crews move in to reinforce the banks the Chicago River’s North Branch, which runs through campus.

“We have been trying to get this project done for eight years,” says North Park Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Balsam.

Trouble began after a severe rainstorm in August 2001, when University officials noticed that the piling retaining the riverbank behind Anderson residence hall was failing and the bank was breaking. As a result, several parking spaces near the river’s edge had to be abandoned. Over time the length of the piling that extends northeast, from Argyle Street to the campus footbridge near Carmen and Spaulding avenues, was leaning severely and risked failure in some places. Trees lining the bank were also contributing to its erosion, as strong water currents undercut the bottom of the piling and  trees leaning over the piling added pressure. Record-breaking rainfall and flooding in September 2008 only worsened the problems.

“When the initial failure appeared we didn’t really know who was responsible for the piling, even though it was on our property,” Balsam explains. After talking to the Water Reclamation District, which oversees the areas waterways, the University was told that the Army Corp of Engineers had jurisdiction. Upon contacting the Corps the University learned of a program under the federal code providing for “emergency stream bank remediation.” Essentially, the program allowed for cost sharing. The government would pay about two-thirds of the costs of repairing the riverbank, and North Park would pay the remaining one-third.

University administration began plans to get started, enlisting its own landscape architects and campus planners to help the Army Corps to assess the options. When the project seemed set to proceed, it was delayed twice: once when the government diverted funds that would have been used for the river project to Iraq war reconstruction, and a second time when funds were diverted for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in 2005.

“Finally we have the funding in place and work is starting,” Balsam notes. That work includes cutting off old piling and replacing it from Argyle to Magnuson Campus Center, and supporting the bank with revetment using large boulders behind Magnuson. From Magnuson to the footbridge, the bank will be terraced. The pathway from the footbridge than runs between Burgh Hall and Magnuson will also be reconstructed to resemble the asphalt on the north side of campus, lined with brick pavers, light posts, and a wrought-iron fence installed on the riverbank side of the path.

Construction began in mid-June and is expected to take about three months to complete, although the University is hoping that work can be expedited to limit any inconvenience when students return this fall.

“It should look considerably better when all the work is finished,” Balsam anticipates. “The Army Corps is working very hard to improve the riverbank integrity and its surrounding area to create a safer and more attractive environment for our campus and our students.”