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Reservoir No Longer Needed.

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In February 2002, the first issue of the Riverwest Currents was published. On our third anniversary we return to that same cover story: the Reservoir at North Avenue. Even the headlines are identical, although in that first piece the headline ended with a question mark, in regard to issues first raised during a planning process for replacing the Reservoir in 2001. A plan quite similar to what is being proposed now had been developed, providing that a smaller tank would serve as water storage. The question has finally been answered. The reservoir is no longer needed. On Jan. 13, Carrie Lewis, Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent, presented models, drawings and an overview of where we are now. Lewis said that she “shares our concerns that the view at the top of the hill and that parkland be preserved.” She and the two aldermen whose districts are affected, Mike McGee and Mike D’Amato, were present to field questions. The Water Works engineers have tested and installed new pumping equipment. They have determined that no water storage is needed in this hill, and that the Reservoir can be decommissioned. It still has water in it, but has not been on line for months. The planning and process for landscaping the hill can proceed, and Lewis predicts that work will begin in 2006. Reservoir History Some questions from the early years of this century have been answered regarding the future of the Reservoir, and some remain to be addressed. First, a little history. The Reservoir was built in 1872 and filled with water in 1873, initially with water from the Milwaukee River and then from Lake Michigan the following year. It was the first public water works in the Great Lakes region. In 1941 the American Legion planted flowers in the shape of a star on the east face of the hill. The outline of the star can still be seen as you approach the hill from North Avenue going west. Historical preservationist Donna Schliemann was largely responsible for getting the Milwaukee Common Council to unanimously approve the designation of Kilbourn/Reservoir Park as a Historic Site in July of 1999. This designation requires oversight and approval by the Milwaukee Historical Commission for any proposed changes to the shape and height of the Reservoir Hill. Although the historical designation could be removed by the council, the focus given by Schlieman has survived. The basics of keeping the shape and height of the hill will be carried forward in the plan to landscape and remove the Reservoir. That was a vital question in 2002 and remains an issue today. The Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) June 2004 position paper on the Reservoir concurs: Keep the hill, keep the view, improve access. In addition, Lewis said the tot lot on the west side of the Reservoir will be replaced with new equipment. The American Legion Star on the east face of the hill will be restored as requested by the neighborhood. Lewis asked for artists and residents to submit ideas on how this may be done with low upkeep materials to form the star. It was suggested that limestone from the tank be used for this and other park amenities. The pathways on the Reservoir will be asphalt paved, in accordance with the desires of the 50 plus citizens that attended the meeting. Other Issues Other issues regarding this green space were presented at the Jan. 13 meeting: North Avenue will be rebuilt around the hill, providing safer car transit by making the radius of the curve constant and banking the curve slightly. However, pedestrian crossing of this busy street is still an issue to be addressed. The plan includes a painted crosswalk near what is now North Avenue and Garfield Avenue. Garfield will be closed in this section of the park and returned to green space. This plan does not, however, address the concerns expressed by residents and Tom Schneider, executive director of COA Youth and Family Center regarding connectivity and safety between the southern and northern parts of the park. Lewis noted the need for “hazard mitigation of North Avenue.” Besides the road reconstruction of North Avenue she mentioned that the problems of crossing at the east end of the park at Bremen Street and North Avenue near COA would be addressed later by the Department of Public Works. However, she did not have a good answer for pedestrian safety and connectivity questions that were raised which have posed the most significant issues for this project. No Problem At this meeting the most surprising statement was made by Paul Jakubovich, city staff for the Historical Commission, that a bridge over North Avenue would not be a problem for the commission and its objectives. This had been seen as a violation of the Common Council’s position in previous years, and Alderman Michael D’Amato had noted that a bridge that leads to the top of the hill would not serve pedestrians who would cross at street level. This raises the question — Can we have a pedestrian bridge? Children and adults using the park for recreational purposes would be served by such a bridge. Originally, the Water Works had dedicated 9 million dollars to the rebuilding of the Reservoir. Since they do not need the water storage capacity and wish to decommission the facility, the Water Works does not expect to still pay this full sum. Lewis does not have hard figures but they expect to spend between $3 and $4 million on this project. Whether a bridge spanning North Avenue can be covered in that budget remains to be seen. Another big issue raised in 2002 that is still pending is a caretaker plan. COA Youth and Family Centers has an agreement with the city to do maintenance and programming for the green space south of North Avenue, which includes a soccer field, picnic areas and the trails on the slope down to Commerce Street. The sloping section of the park will be named the Alice Bertschy Kadish Park. This agreement does not extend to the former Reservoir space, however, and the Water Works is responsible for maintenance of this land. As Lewis has often noted, her primary duty is to run the Water Works and they are not in the park business. Residents have complained about the present condition of the land and the goal is to provide a friendlier and accessible green space. COA’s Schneider emphasized the need for a maintenance plan. There are several buildings on the west side of the Reservoir which will not be removed. Discussion this January focused on possible use of these building for the community, and a potential public-private partnership that would provide for upkeep of the properties. At this time it was clear there is no long-term plan for upkeep and programing for the Reservoir lands. The final plans for the construction phase, which Lewis expects to begin as early as possible in 2006, must be approved by the Milwaukee Historical Preservation Commission and the Milwaukee Common Council. You may send comments to Alderman Michael D’Amato at City Hall, Room 205, 200 E. Wells St. Milwaukee, WI 53202-3570, email or Alderman Michael McGee City Hall, Room 205, 200 E. Wells St. Milwaukee, WI 53202-3570, email To comment to the Historical PreservationCommission, call (414) 286-5705, send email to , regarding the Kilbourn park reservoir plan. The Commission’s focus is on the physical plan as it impacts the existing hill structure and is not involved in programming ideas for the park.
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