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$450,000 fix deemed too costly - for now
The Ceres water tower - built early in the Franklin Roosevelt administration - will require nearly a half million dollars for preservation, a staggering figure which the Ceres City Council choked on Monday.

During a 6 p.m. study session, members learned the city would have to spend $450,000 to give the tower a new look and preserve its structural integrity. Bryan Briggs, the city's Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager, suggested committing redevelopment agency dollars toward the project, mostly to keep the icon standing as a community identifier to be used in future downtown revitalization marketing efforts.

But given the shaky economy and plans by the state to raid city redevelopment coffers, members were gun shy.

"I understand the history of that water tank and everything," said Mayor Chris Vierra, "but at nearly half a million dollars it's hard for me to justify an iconic feature."

In 2010, the city commissioned a study on the tower's condition. Briggs said downtown merchants like the idea of using the tower as an icon to promote downtown. He also noted that the tower is seen daily by thousands of motorists driving up and down Highway 99 and is "held near and dear to longtime Ceres residents."

Vierra said he doesn't believe many people pay the tower much attention and interjected that in better economic times the project "would be something we should consider."

Members were also, however, unwilling to say the tower should come down. Briggs said the city could dismantle the tower, built in 1934 on Sixth Street near Lawrence Street, for $20,000.

Another option rejected by the council was to build a new replacement water tower that could be used for water storage and pressure at a cost of $800,000. Typically, however, cities don't build tanks on small scales. He noted that the tower that looms above Highway 99 in Ripon is a 1.5 million gallon tank and actually boosts the water pressure there.

For decades the Ceres tank gave the small city the water pressure it needed. It was later abandoned when newer water delivery technology took over.

A $29,880 study by Cornerstone Structural Engineering Group of Fresno revealed that while the tank is remarkably sturdy, it needs work to keep it towering on the Ceres skyline for decades to come. The tank - which is not used to store water - needs to be stripped of its lead based paint and repainted to keep rust from weakening its metal. In some areas the metal is fatigued and some rivets may be in need of replacement.

Briggs said he presented the project to the council as it is ready to move forward before Gov. Brown possibly seizes redevelopment funds.

"If we wait a year it's hard to say where our redevelopment funds will be," said Briggs.

Vierra said the state may put the city on the hook for projects done within the last three years with redevelopment funds.

"My feeling is that unless there is the ability to garner some grant funds from a historical landmark perspective or something I don't see an immediate need to do anything with this until we understand what's going to happen with the redevelopment agency," said Mayor Vierra. "If we were talking about a different project that would have much more impact, that's another thing."

Councilman Bret Durrosette said he doesn't mind delaying a decision as long as the public's safety isn't jeopardized. He did state his feelings that the tower is seen by many.

"I say we wait," said Durrosette.

"I feel the same way," said Councilman Guillermo Ochoa. "This is definitely not the time to be spending money, especially if the conversations from Sacramento are that they will go back a few years and I'd hate to see us to lose $450,000 like that. I say we should mothball it until we can."

Vierra suggested revisiting the issue in eight months to a year.