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Committee begins effort to save Brainerd's historic water tower

"The symbol of the city." "The beacon of the north." These were terms used to describe Brainerd's historic water tower as a citizen committee aiming to save the iconic structure met for the first time Wednesday, Oct. 24.

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

"The symbol of the city." "The beacon of the north." These were terms used to describe Brainerd's historic water tower as a citizen committee aiming to save the iconic structure met for the first time Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Brainerd City Council member Dave Badeaux and five citizens appointed to the committee talked mostly organizational strategies, such as the format of future meetings and what goals they hope to accomplish.

The group tentatively set its meetings for 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month at city hall, and discussed including a public forum each month so citizens can come speak if they want.

"If we're going to save this water tower, we need the public," committee member Mary Koep said, adding the public needs to know the value of their voices on the issue.

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"If we're going to save this water tower, we need the public." - committee member Mary Koep

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The group also agreed to reach out to other businesses or organizations -like the Breen and Person Law firm attached to the water tower-in the future to get input.

A big question Badeaux said he has heard from many residents is what will happen to the money donated to save the water tower if efforts ultimately fail and it gets torn down. Many people, he said, are concerned the money would just go to the city.

Though the committee agreed more planning needs to take place before that question can be answered, committee member Carissa Meyer suggested having donors agree on one or more charities or organizations to give that money to, should it come to down to that.

After researching the Pipestone water tower-built in 1920 by the same architect who constructed Brainerd's tower-committee member Joella Converse said the town holds an annual Water Tower Festival, originally designed to raise money for minor repairs needed. Though Pipestone's tower never needed as much work as Brainerd's, she mentioned similar events as an option. She also suggested selling water tower memorabilia-like T-shirts, mugs or salt and pepper shakers-as possible fundraising ideas.

The group plans to create a committee-run Facebook page to make sure the public gets accurate and timely information about efforts to save the tower.

At next month's meeting, Badeaux said he hopes to delve into what some specific efforts would look like.

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Background

The city council agreed to give citizens two years to raise the estimated $3 million needed to save the tower. Previously set for Aug. 6, 2020, that "sunset date" has been moved to Oct. 24, 2020-two years from the water tower committee's first meeting.

Large pieces of falling stucco originally prompted the discussion around what to do with the tower-fix it or demolish it. The various options for fixing the structure range in cost from $2.4 to $3 million, and the cost of demolition is estimated between $150,000 to $300,000.

Residents and community members packed city hall during the council's Monday, July 16, meeting to advocate for fixing the water tower.

A little history

Designed by L.P. Wolff, the Brainerd historic water tower was constructed between 1919-22 when a new water system was implemented in the city. It stands at 134 feet high, at one time featuring a maximum capacity of 300,000 gallons housed in a bowl created by a single pouring of concrete.

It's one of two water towers by the architect still standing-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 in 1959-60 from use, the historic water tower evolved from practical to symbolic purposes, elevated to a status as an icon of the city, an imposing presence on the Brainerd skyline and an image emblemized on the city's seal. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974.

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