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Water tower group plans fundraising effort
The 80-foot-tall Ceres water tower was constructed in 1934 and was kept in place despite not being utilized with the development of modern water pumping systems. A group of Ceres residents would like to see the tower last painted in 2002 restored. To do that, an estimated half million dollars would have to be raised. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Not unlike a political campaign, members of a group intending to help the city raise monies for the restoration of the Ceres water tower are planning to launch a door-to-door sweep to get out word.

"We're going to put groups together to go out into the community and go door-to-door and hand out flyers and explain to them what's going on," said organizer Brandy Meyer.

A group of citizens is set on raising an estimated $500,000 for restoration and painting of the iconic Ceres water tower. The city owns the tower but doesn't have the finances to do the job but leaders back the effort. Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra has pledged that the city will restore the tower if the group successfully raises enough money.
Meyer, a downtown businesswoman, is leading the ambitious effort along with retirees Sheila and Lee Brandt.

The group is planning a strategy session to take place 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 at Village Chapel Free-Will Baptist Church, 1825 Central Ave., Ceres. Anyone may attend.

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. A 2010 bid from Cornerstone Company obtained by the city 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, said City Manager Toby Wells. However, Meyer would like to see the city obtain three additional bids.

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.

The Ceres Community Foundation has agreed to collect funds for the group which allows donors to write off their donations.

Meyer said her group has created pledge forms for a one-time donation, schedules of payments or deferred payments.

"I've already had several people turn in payments and deferred payments," she said.

The group will be having T-shirts printed with the water tower logo. Other ideas will be to sell crafts featuring the water tower as its central art.

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.

"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."

Meyer pledged to maintain a data base and return the funds if the group falls short by 2023.

Timing is right, said Meyer, 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.

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 or visit the Ceres Water Tower Facebook page. Checks may be made to the Ceres Community Foundation (with Water tower on the memo line), P.O. Box 1484, Ceres CA 95307. A website is soon coming at