The future vision of Northfield’s signature thoroughfare has come into focus as village trustees solidified a plan of action for enhancements to Happ Road.
During a committee of the whole session on July 18, Northfield’s trustees directed staff to move forward with plans that will bring several aesthetic and safety enhancements to the road
As previously reported by The Record, the project, which will rework Happ Road from Winnetka Avenue to Willow Road, is expected to go to bid in the fall of 2024 and officials project actual work to begin in 2025.
During a meeting in May, village officials walked trustees through planned improvements, including enhanced traffic signals and pedestrian lights, and most notably, a roundabout at Happ and Orchard Lane.
Trustees expressed some concern at the May meeting about a proposed fountain as an added design element for the middle of the roundabout. The board then directed the project’s architects to return with alternate designs and cost estimates for plans with and without the fountain.
But he board’s outlook on the fountain as part of the project changed course July 18, and the board ultimately directed staff to advance plans that feature a slightly scaled-down version of the fountain.
Landscape architect Jodie Mariano, of Teska Associates, presented three design options to the board, the first of which was the same plan the board reviewed in May. This option included multilevel masonry walls, planters and the fountain basin in the center of the roundabout with landscaping around it.
Mariano estimated a cost of $760,00 for the first option, noting that it was the highest priced because it has the most masonry and involves the most construction.
The second option, which was the preferred choice among the majority of the board, also included the fountain but with simplified walls around it that do not feature as many levels and tiers as the first proposal. Mariano described the second option as “a little bit simpler and a little bit less expensive.”
Mariano presented the board with an estimated cost of $650,000 for this option.
The last option the board considered included no water feature but would have mirrored displays that are already featured throughout the village. This concept had a proposed cost of $140,000.
Before making the final directive to staff, members of the board expressed differing opinions about the options.
Village President Greg Lungmus said that he favored the plan that trustees previously reviewed in May. He noted that he understood concerns about maintenance costs, which were first brought forward when trustees initially considered design elements, but that this “is the gateway” to Northfield.
Trustee Tom Whittaker said he preferred the lowest-cost option while reiterating his hesitations about the maintenance costs associated with the foundation.
“We’ve had fountains in this town that have lasted not so long,” he said, noting that the short lifespan was largely due to maintenance.
“I think it’s beautiful but I think that having a running water fountain is just not ideal,” he said.
Board member Barnaby Dinges agreed with Whittaker in saying he favored the lowest-cost option but differed in his reasoning.
“The first two (proposals) have kind of a big heavy fortress feel and we’re the comfortable corner of the North Shore, so I think something lighter, airy, and not so heavy,” he said.
Trustee Todd Fowler said he felt like it would be a missed opportunity if the board did not move forward with one of the options that included the fountain, saying “there are very few places where we can have an impact visually to create community.”
“This is going to be more than generational in terms of the overall impact to downtown,” he said.
Trustees Tracey Mendrek, Matt Galin and Charles Orth all also showed support for the scaled-down, second fountain option.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.