In a Mayberry like scene, a group of about 30 residents gathered last week to talk about ways to raise nearly a half million dollars to preserve the Ceres water tower, a fixture in downtown since the first administration of Franklin Roosevelt.
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.
"People have been talking and talking and now it's time to do something," said Meyer, who called for a meeting at Alfonso's on Tuesday evening, Aug. 29. Timing is right, she said, especially since the city is in the process of renovating Fourth Street just a block away.
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.
Brandy Meyer spearheaded the meeting and suggested it could take years to raise the funds necessary for the city to order the repairs. Ideas for fundraising include finding corporate sponsors, hosting special events, selling bricks with donors' names and a campaign to have 2,500 residents donate $200 over a three-year period. Another man suggested turning the tower into a time capsule, allowing donors to place items inside it.
"This isn't going to happen tomorrow - I wish it could but it's not," said Meyer. "It's going to take a few years to get it fixed. I would like to see three to five years."
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 tank was last painted in February 2002 at a cost of $5,000 but not done properly.
"They put the American flag and the city name on it. The cost to do it was $5,000. However when that happened it wasn't reinforced. They just went up and painted and didn't repair the tower, the rust and things like that. Unfortunately it didn't last as long as we might hope it would. What we want to do now is go ahead and repair and paint it so it lasts for a much longer time."
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.
Sheila Brandt and husband Lee said a number of Ceres residents consider the tower as Ceres' endearing icon.
"As we started this we started realizing how much people love the water tower," said Sheila. "If we don't get at it and get started ... 10 years from now there will still be people talking about the need to get going on the water tower."
"Let's get started," Pastor Adrian Condit answered her.
Brandt sees the tower restoration as a point in civic pride.
"We have to remember that thousands and thousands of people, as they're going down Highway 99 each day, are seeing that water tower and we want that to represent Ceres. And the way it looks right now, let's be honest, it's pitiful. It's pitiful. I don't want people to think Ceres is pitiful. We're not. We're a proud city and we need to show that we're a proud city."
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.
Those attending felt it would be prudent to get updated and multiple bids. Wells noted that since the article appeared in the Ceres Courier that a number of companies have inquired about bidding it with some commenting that the $450,000 number was "a little low" for today.
When one woman suggested the city seek volunteer help, Wells quickly said "impossible" because of OSHA laws.
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.
Susan Bennett told the gathering that the shabby look of the water tower nearly caused her not to move to Ceres seven years ago. She said that as her realtor drove her to Ceres to check out houses she glanced up at the tower and thought, "Oh my God, where is he taking me because it looked like a very poor distressed community and that's not where I'm from. To see that as my first impression was sad."
"I'm real interested in having this fixed and look nice because I do see this pretty much every day," said Bennett.
Meyer said her group plans to approach the Ceres City Council on Sept. 11 to seek permission to form an ad hoc citizens committee to begin working on fundraising.
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 old homes and buildings of significance.
"Our ultimate goal," said Lee Brandt, "is to make sure this is done with our funding. The city flat can't afford it. We don't want a dollar coming from the city but we do want the city's blessing."
Anyone who wants to contact to donate or offer assistance may email Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Ceres Water Tower Facebook page.