Pieces falling from historic water tower, city to investigate options
Large chunks of grout falling from the north side historic water tower have city leaders looking into the idea of a $1 user fee per utility billing in effort to raise funds to fix the ailing structure.
At the Brainerd City Council meeting Monday, the group unanimously approved looking into the idea of charging a $1 usage fee on each monthly Brainerd Public Utilities (BPU) bill.
The vote does not implement the fee. It only directs city staff to investigate the concept and bring it back to council for possible approval.
With 7,500 accounts billed each month, it could generate an annual $85,000, said City Administrator Patrick Wussow.
--- Read more about Brainerd's iconic water tower at BrainerdHistory.com. ---
"When the repair is done, we're done (putting a $1 user fee on bills)," said council member Kelly Bevans.
The council was first alerted to the water tower problem at it's previous meeting.
As Brainerd Public Utilities and SEH officials worked to evaluate the problem, a plastic orange fence was erected to barricade off the north lawn under the tower.
The city will also drape a massive net over the face of the tower this week to prevent any fragments from flying off the tower during heavy wind and rain.
But funding the investigation and possible repairs is proving costly.
"This is a good idea," Bevans said of the proposed $1 fee. "It's a user fee. It is not a tax increase."
He added, "I just think it's an excellent idea on how to pay for it and to move forward quickly with plan before ... it becomes financially unfeasible and a liability."
Council member Chip Borkenhagen said he liked the idea but pointed out repairing the structure will be expensive and could mean several years of user fees for residents.
Mayor James Wallin said the user fee was "an excellent idea."
In the mean time, the council approved spending about $46,000 in investigating just how serious the deterioration of the tower is.
The money will come from the city's capital projects fund.
The investigative work will come in two steps and will be completed by a contractor. The first step is to check the entire exterior of structure for unstable material, remove it and then to set up rigging off top to do more detailed investigation.
Crews will need to bring in a specialized, out-of-state 135-foot self-propelled work platform that has articulated arms to do the work.
The second step is to evaluate the exterior and the core structure itself. That will determine how sound the concrete structure is.
Finally, a report will be prepared with option to fix the structure.
"We won't know the extent of the work needed until we evaluate the condition of concrete," said City Engineer Jeff Hulsether.
Hulsether said his concern is that the concrete covering the steel might be in poor condition, judging by the way the cracking is happening.
The purpose of the investigation, he said, it to "determine how much of the tower is solid."
Council member Gary Scheeler said he struggled with the idea of spending $46,000 to determine the tower "is shot."
"I visibly saw that myself this morning," he said.
Council member Mary Koep suggested asking the residents what they want to do with the tower.
"Maybe it is time to go to people (through a referendum), give them an outline of what needs to be done, give them an estimate and see what they think," she said.
City Planner Mark Ostgarden suggested some community fundraising effort start to fund the project.
"If ever there was an icon the community should come forward and rally and fundraise for, that would be it," he said, pointing toward the tower.
Council President Dale Parks added that something has to be done soon, and that the investigation was the first step.
"It's an icon," he said of the tower. "It's something that signifies the city of Brainerd."