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Citizens want water tower saved
Citizens plan to meet next Tuesday to save iconic structure
Water tower eyesore
A group wants to help the city come up with ways to save the water tower by reinforcing it structurally and painting it again. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

It's 83 years old, no longer in service, considered an eyesore save for a desperate need of new paint the city says it can't afford, yet a group of citizens will meet next week to brainstorm ways to help the city restore the Ceres water tower.

Brandy Meyer, along with Lee and Sheila Brandt, are spearheading the effort to save the tower for reasons of nostalgia and suggest the city could ultimately dismantle the iconic structure. They have planned a 6 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at the Ceres Chamber of Commerce office, corner of Fourth and North streets.

"I'm so tired of hearing about the water tower looking like it does," said Meyer, "and with us revitalizing downtown it just seems like a no-brainer that's something we need to work on also because it is a landmark of Ceres."

Scuttlebutt was raised Monday on social media when Lee Brandt suggested that the city had plans to scrap the 1934 tower sitting high above Sixth Street. The comment was made on Meyer's Facebook page called, "Save the Ceres Water Tower," which notes: "The Ceres Water Tower is in need of repair. This meeting is to gather citizens of Ceres to form a plan and receive information on how to save the tower. This tower is a historical monument in our town and should be preserved for future generations. If you are interested in saving the tower, please attend this meeting or contact me for more information." Brandt shared the page and suggested some in the city organization may ultimately find excuses to tear down the iron structure.

Based on casual talks in the past with unnamed city officials, Meyer has concluded that "there are several people in the city who would like to see it come down because it's more of a nuisance than anything. There's too many people who would not that want to come down."

Some see the tower as a nuisance. Visually it is not attractive because of the rust bleeding through the 2002 paint job. Occasionally some youngsters illegally scamper up the tower ladder and thrown beer cans from the catwalk. The 50,000-gallon tank itself has found itself a high-profile target by gun shooters.

Ceres City Manager Toby Wells told the Courier that there are no such secret plans to raze the tower. He also noted that the city doesn't have the funds to restore it. Wells said a 2010 estimate of the project costs were approximately $310,000 for a paint job alone to $500,000 for a combination of safety retrofitting, paint stripping and painting. At the time the city estimated dismantling costs were in the ballpark of $20,000.

"Nothing's changed," said Wells. "The last time the City Council has had a formal discussion on the tower was in 2011. No decision was made so nothing has changed. No decisions have been made either to repair or dismantle - and nothing is currently planned."

In 2010 the city asked a structural engineer about the soundness of the tower and learned it was structurally viable but improvements are necessary if the city wants to keep it standing in Ceres skies. The city is not required to conduct regular inspections of the tower since it is no longer used to hold water.

"If it's going to be kept it involves structural reinforcement to ensure that it can last for another 50 years," said Wells. "You would have to add reinforcements to it. Some of the connections have to be redone. There's rust and damage and those types of things."

Wells said the bigger issue is dealing with lead-based paint, which is considered an environmental and health hazard. He suggested the entire structure would need to be shrouded to prevent paint particles from flying while being removed for a new coat of paint.

The tank of the tower was painted in 2002 for a cost of $5,000. Wells said the city "got away with" covering over lead based paint. Wells said when the last paint contract was ordered "people were paying much less attention to this type stuff - today we can't get away with it."

Raising that kind of cash could prove daunting.

"I have a hard time thinking this community is going to raise $400,000 or $200,000 or even $100,000 for something like this," commented Wells. "When you look at the needs of this community, if you had three or four hundred thousand dollars is that the most important thing? There's an emotional attachment in terms of historical value but it (the tower) doesn't do anything for the city."

Meyer however thinks "something can be done to get it up to code, to get it to where it is redone and safe."

She believes the community can explore grant opportunities and less expensive cost options.

Meyer and Wells scheduled a preliminary discussion yesterday afternoon as this issue was going to press.

"Every day when I walk out the back door of the office to go to my car it's right there. It's the first thing I see when I walk out. That why, for me, that's sort of my peace at night. At the end of the day when it's time to go home there's the water tower. But it needs work. We need to fix it otherwise it's just going to continue to deteriorate. And it's not pretty but it can be. People drive by it all the time."