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2018 Top 10: No. 6 - Brainerd's historic water tower in jeopardy

Efforts to save Brainerd's historic water tower are in full force. Stucco falling from the tower on the corner of Washington and South Sixth streets earlier this year prompted city officials to explore repair options for the iconic structure. As ...

Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
A ground-level shot of the Brainerd historic water tower. Gaps in the eroded stucco exterior of the structure can been seen at the top-center portion of the bowl. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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Efforts to save Brainerd's historic water tower are in full force.

Stucco falling from the tower on the corner of Washington and South Sixth streets earlier this year prompted city officials to explore repair options for the iconic structure.

As similar issues have happened in the past, this isn't the first time the tower's future has been in question, but it could be the last, as the structure faces the possibility of demolition if the funds necessary to pay for repairs aren't found in the next two years.

Brainerd City Engineer Paul Sandy presented the city council in July with four options moving forward. Three options include adding some sort of roof to the tower to stop water intrusion. They range in cost from $2.4 to $3 million. The fourth and seemingly unpopular option is to demolish the tower. That would cost roughly $150,000 to $300,000.

Community members from near and far took to city hall, filling council chambers, during a meeting July 16 to argue in favor of keeping the historic structure. Comments included: "You should do everything you possibly can to save the tower," and, "It's part of our culture."

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The city council doesn't seem to be rushing to tear down the tower either, with council member Dave Badeaux saying it's neither the will of the people of Brainerd nor the position of the council to demolish the structure. But gathering funds, he noted, could be tricky.

Fast forward a few months, and Badeaux now sits on the citizens' Save the Water Tower Committee, made up of driven community members who don't want to see the tower go.

In August the council put a sunset date on the tower. That date has since moved to Oct. 24, 2020, two years from the water tower committee's first meeting. If the funds needed to fix the tower aren't raised by then, the city may look to destroy it.

Badeaux has told committee members he wants to see them raise a minimum of $1.6 million in the two-year time period. That amount, he said, will give the city a base to start and the opportunity to explore other options-like a referendum-to find the rest of the funds.

The water tower committee is looking to apply for grants to help offset the cost of repairs and is working on a marketing strategy to let the community know funds are being accepted.

The committee meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month at city hall. The next meeting is Jan. 16.

Background

Built between 1919-22, Brainerd's historic water tower is one of two towers still standing by architect L.P. Wolff-the other being the Pipestone water tower-and it was the first all-concrete elevated water depository used by a municipality in the United States. Retired from use in 1959-60, the tower evolved from practical to symbolic uses, now emblemized on the city's seal and serving as an icon of the city for both residents and those passing through.

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The tower was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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