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‘Contentious and exhausting’: Group gets approval to save McLean’s old water tower

Rusty water tower with the word McLean inscribed at the top
CORE McLean/Facebook
The decommissioned water tower in McLean was built in the 1930s.

A heated dispute that raged for months in one McLean County village may finally be resolved.

A nonprofit group wanting to preserve the old water tower in McLean urged the village to let volunteers take it over and clean it up. CORE McLean sees the tower built during the New Deal era as a link to the community’s history and a Route 66 tourist attraction.

The village decommissioned the water tower in 2017 when it built a new one.

The McLean Village Board cited concerns about liability risk and maintenance costs, and voted twice last November to move ahead with a plan to pay for the tower’s removal, as a cost of nearly $34,000.

Last week, the village board flipped and voted 4-3 to proceed with a contract to sell the tower for $1 dollar to CORE McLean, after months of negotiations. The nonprofit pledges to repaint the tower and paint a mural at the top, in time for the Route 66 Centennial celebration in two years.

“I think a lot of it was perseverance, just sticking out with our message that this is not a good use of taxpayer funds. This is an asset, repeating [that message], showing that the community was behind us,” CORE Vice President Jeff Hake said in an interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

The village planned to have Clifford Litwiller of Tazewell County remove the tower. Litwiller, a water tower enthusiast who owns a sandblasting and painting business in rural Hopedale, said last fall he wasn’t sure what he planned to do with the tower after moving it, but indicated his number one wish was to keep the tower from being scrapped.

The village expects to formalize a purchase agreement with CORE McLean within the next two months.

Hake added he’s not sure wounds have healed from what became a divisive issue between the village board and CORE.

“It was very contentious and exhausting and it showed there’s some riffs in our little community,” said Hake, adding the village also plans to turn over some of its property for group to build a community garden — a plan the village found “much more agreeable.”

“It’s hard to describe the relief that we’ve succeeded and that our community and CORE McLean are stronger than ever,” Hake said.

He said CORE McLean is fundraising and has the money to do most of the tower renovations, but he believes some work will be donated, or can be covered by grants.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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