Sitting at the center of Scoville Park, the World War I Memorial is arguably the focal point of the entire village.
Atop that hill just off the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street, it looks down over the heart of the village. But since its construction in 1925, it often sat neglected, rarely getting the care it needed.
So when the Park District of Oak Park finally set out to restore the monument in 2009, polishing the bronze service members and resetting each of the granite steps, officials were prepared for a few unanticipated wrinkles.
But what they found when they started pulling things apart surprised even the professionals — adding almost a year to a project that was supposed to take four months.
The park district’s lead contractor on the restoration, Forest Park-based Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, found that almost a foot and a half of the monument’s concrete foundation had deteriorated almost to dirt.
“Nobody knew the condition of the foundation beforehand — we assumed it was bad, but nobody knew for sure,” said CSOS’s owner and director, Andrzej Dajnowski. “Honestly, I’d never seen that badly deteriorated a foundation on a monument that I’ve worked on.”
So Dajnowski and CSOS added an extra step to their restoration, beyond the intensive laser cleaning of the bronze statues and the removal and replacement of the steps: reconstruction the concrete foundation.
Even for Dajnowski, who worked with the Chicago Park District for years restoring Buckingham Fountain and statues across the city, it quickly became a big project.
“At the beginning, it was very overwhelming,” Dajnowski said. “Some steps of the treatment took a bit more time, but I feel that doing the best work possible on any project is much more important than the financial reward.”
Luckily, the park district had budgeted for surprises.
“Going into the project, we thought there were going to be some hiccups,” said Neil Adams, the park district’s project manager. “We set aside some money to be available for unseen conditions … but we weren’t really expecting that it would be crumbling.”
CSOS’s original estimate for the project was 40,600, but the budget was 20,000 — just in case of a scenario like this.
In the end, the lengthy and costly reconstruction of the monument did cost about ,000 more than was budgeted, but it could have been far more if other local companies and government agencies hadn’t pitched in to help out with the project.
Don Maynard of Oak Park-based Garapolo Maynard Architects volunteered to oversee the project. Steve Kelley, a longtime volunteer for the Pleasant Home Foundation Restoration Committee, volunteered his expertise for the project’s technical work. The Village of Oak Park lent its front-end loader to the park district for free for the precise job of moving the steps.
All these contributors made the project work, Adams said.
“It went very well for how complicated it was,” he said. “It was a life-sized jigsaw puzzle, and Andrzej can attest to that.”