A group of citizens set on raising an estimated half-million dollars for restoration and painting of the iconic Ceres water tower came away from Monday's City Council meeting with its blessings.
Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said the city would restore the tower if the group successfully raises enough money.
"We're supportive of your efforts," said Vierra. "If you can come up with the money to do that we would be more than happy to refurbish the water tower."
Downtown businesswoman Brandy Meyer presented her ambitious goal with Sheila and Lee Brandt at her side. Meyer said she considers the tower, which is situated between Fifth and Sixth streets north of Lawrence Street, to be her "moon," and "sort of a peaceful image to enjoy" as she leaves her Fourth Street business to go home at day's end.
On Aug. 29, Meyer and the Brandts mustered up a group of about 30 residents to brainstorm ideas to raise the money to preserve the water tower, a fixture in downtown since 1934. The city owns the tower, which is rusting and slowly succumbing to the elements, but has no funds to restore it. One bid from Cornerstone Company obtained by the city in 2010 pegged the project cost at $450,000. The cost includes cost analysis, testing plans, developing specs, structural repairs, repainting, project management and inspection. Those costs could be as high as $530,000 today.
"That's a lot of funding - $530,000 for a group of people," Meyer told the council. "I think it's possible. I really do. I wouldn't be here tonight if I didn't think it was possible."
Vierra gave the group the advice to maintain stringent accounting "because the citizens will want to make sure that three and five years down the road, if perhaps you don't meet the goal or something the funding is there...."
Meyer pledged to maintain a data base and return the funds if the group falls short by 2023.
Meyer said it could take three to five years to raise the funds necessary for the city to order the repairs. Ideas for fundraising include obtaining grants, finding corporate sponsors, hosting annual fundraisers like golf tournaments and a vintage trailer show, a donation-driven time capsule, selling bricks with donors' names and a quest to have 2,500 residents pledge to donate $200 over a three-year period.
Timing is right, said Meyer, since the city is in the process of renovating Fourth Street just a block away.
"I know this has been talked about for many years but with the downtown revitalization and there's the Centennial coming up next year, what better time do we have to preserve our water tower?" said Meyer.
To raise money for fundraising expenses and market for donations, Meyer said her group plans to sell two designs of T-shirts featuring artwork of the water tower.
City Manager Toby Wells said there are no plans to raze the tower but time will eventually weaken it. The irony is that the cost of dismantling the tower - $20,000 - is how much the city spent to erect it in 1934.
The group would like to see if the Ceres Community Foundation could accept donations on their behalf so that donors could receive a tax deduction.
"It also makes it easier for us to ask for grants," said Meyer.
The group wants to look into federal and state grants, which Meyer acknowledges are not easy to secure. She has contacted volunteers to write grant applications. She wants to explore having the tower added to the National Register of Historic Places but acknowledges that may be a stretch. The status is normally reserved for historic homes and sites.
The tank was last painted in early 2002 at a cost of $5,000 but not done properly. Wells noted that the next paint job - if there is one - will be expected to last 20 to 30 years depending on the quality of paint.
Wells said making the project expensive is the fact that the silver-colored coat of lead-based paint cannot be removed without being captured by a shroud. The job would be treated as a hazardous materials disposal.
"They actually have to cover the entire tower to make sure that while they're working on it that all that lead-based paint doesn't chip away and go into the atmosphere," said Meyer.
"Thousands of people go down 99 every single day and they see our water tower," said Sheila Brandt. "We're wanting to attract people to our downtown area, we're putting all that beautiful work in downtown - which is going to be awesome once it's all done - and then we've got our water tower and she's pitiful. She needs work and we know the city does not have the money for it; we're not even suggesting that, but she does need work."
The tower was built by Chicago Bridge & Ironworks Company in an era when placing a 50,000 tank of water 90 to 118 feet in the sky could supply all the water pressure needed in a small Ceres. It is no longer used to hold water and has since been punctured by plagued by rust and bullet holes.
Anyone who wants to donate or offer assistance may email Meyer at email@example.com or visit the Ceres Water Tower Facebook page.