Those working to save Brainerd’s historic water tower are crossing their fingers for another grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to further the effort.
And they no longer have a deadline looming on the horizon.
The Brainerd City Council agreed Monday, July 19, to contribute $162,043 in matching funds for a grant application to the historical society, which would kick in the same amount of money — if awarded — to help fund a roof for the tower.
Back in 2018, the city council set aside $300,000 for the tower — the cost estimated to tear it down if funds couldn’t be raised to save it — and has only used $12,500 of it so far. The $12,500 were matching funds required for a 2019 grant from the historical society to fund plans to design the new roof and needed renovations to the tower.
With the designs, courtesy of LHB, now nearing completion, the water tower committee knows what needs to be done to stabilize the aging structure and how much it will cost. The estimated price tag of adding a synthetic rubber roof and catch basin for drainage, along with restoring the windows and steel staircase, tuckpointing the brick around the windows and relocating the flagpoles, is $324,086, a decrease from the roughly $400,000 estimate Committee Chair Paul Skogen gave the council at its last meeting.
The grant application is due July 23.
Council member Gabe Johnson asked if the water tower committee had reached out to Breen & Person Ltd., the law firm located under the water tower and most affected by the falling stucco in recent years, to ask if they are satisfied with the progress being made. Mayor Dave Badeaux, council liaison to the committee, said they have not yet heard back from the law firm, so the council directed City Administrator Jennifer Bergman to reach out.
Assuming the new roof becomes a reality, the second phase of construction on the tower would remove and repair the stucco, which could cost in the ballpark of $600,000. The tower, itself, however, is structurally sound, and with a new roof to stop further water damage, the tower could survive for decades to come.
Skogen has also submitted an application to Sen. Amy Klobuchar for congressionally directed spending from the Senate Appropriations Committee for over $400,000.
Water tower background
The historic water tower, which celebrated its 100th birthday in December 2020, sits on the corner of Washington and Sixth streets in downtown Brainerd. Though it no longer holds water, the structure has become a city icon, welcoming passersby to Brainerd and representing the city on its official seal
The city council began talking about the tower’s future in 2018, discussion prompted by large chunks of stucco falling to the ground.
A committee was formed and originally given two years — until October 2020 — to raise the money to fund what was thought at the time to be $1.6-$3 million worth of renovations. With COVID-19 throwing a wrench in plans, the council extended the deadline to July 2021. On Monday, committee members requested a further deadline extension to September 2022, but the city council agreed not to put another ending date on the project but asked the group to provide regular updates as work continues.
The committee has raised more than $44,000 so far, with another $24,000 in private pledges to hopefully be made public soon.
Members of the water tower committee will be accepting donations in their booth at the Crow Wing County Fair Aug. 3-7 and will also be selling water tower merchandise, such as T-shirts, keychains, cribbage boards, cards and mugs. The group decided Wednesday, July 21, to order another shipment of Christmas tree ornaments with the water tower on them but is not sure if they will come in before the fair.
Other donations can be made online via the city’s website at ci.brainerd.mn.us, with a 3.61% service fee applied to all donations.
Those interested in joining the water tower committee can fill out an application at https://bit.ly/2SwQ4Rt or pick up an application at city hall.
The committee, which is working toward nonprofit status, meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at city hall. Meetings are open to the public.
For more information, visit brainerdwatertower.com or follow the Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower page on Facebook.