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Water tower receives historical society grant to fund new roof designs

The water tower is lit up Wednesday, Jan. 16, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
The water tower is lit up Wednesday, Jan. 16, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

A grant is in place, and Brainerd’s water tower committee is another step closer to saving the city’s historic structure.

“It’s a big step for us,” Dave Badeaux, city council liaison to the committee, said Thursday, Dec. 26.

Last year, stucco falling from the tower prompted the city to take a closer look at the iconic downtown structure. The cost to fix it was estimated at up to $3 million, so the city council gave the people of Brainerd an ultimatum: raise the money to fix the tower, or it’s coming down.

Since fall 2018, the citizen water tower committee has worked to raise money and find alternative funding sources to save the tower.

Now, a $23,700 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society will help fund schematic designs for a new roof for the tower, which is the first step in repairing the structure, according to a 2017 structure report noting the bowl on top will soon start to deteriorate without a roof. The city council agreed to chip in one-third — about $12,500 — of the cost of designs.

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“One of the biggest things that we need to get is a dollar amount put on the whole project,” Badeaux said. “It’s hard to go and ask people to donate to something that doesn’t have a final limit on it, and so this really puts us in a position where we can find the exact goal and then start working towards that.”

Having specific plans in place and a concrete cost estimate could also help the committee secure larger grants for the project in the future, according to committee member Paul Skogen, who spearheaded the grant application process.

“When we started this whole thing, nobody really knew a direction to go,” Skogen said. “And that’s when I said we needed a set of plans in order to go forward and save this water tower.”

The committee will now work with the Minnesota Historical Society in procuring the designs from LHB Inc., which was involved with the 2017 structure report.

Because the tower is on the National Register of Historic Places, the designs for the updates will have to meet criteria set by the U.S. secretary of the interior’s professional qualification standards in design and restoration.

Under the grant stipulations, the design team at LHB must also:

  • Review and compile past documents, including current and historic photos of the tower and the 2017 structure report.

  • Review schematic and restoration documents with staff at the city of Brainerd and at the Minnesota Historical Society grants departments.

  • Produce professionally signed architectural, structural and electrical plans and specifications to preserve the historic water tower for delivery to the city and the historical society.

“It’s going to be a lengthy process,” Badeaux said. “It’s going to take a little longer than we hoped for this next phase, for us to move through this next phase, but it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction.”
Skogen said the designs should be done by November or December 2020, with the project possibly going out for bids in spring 2021. He hopes designers at LHB will be able to provide a cost estimate on the roof this summer so the community has a better idea of how much funding is really needed.

“So now hopefully we can get the community behind us and go from there,” Skogen said.

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The city council previously gave the committee an October 2020 deadline to secure funds for the tower, but with the recent progress made, Skogen believes the council will allow the water tower committee to continue working toward its goal.

How to help

Having raised about $20,000 through fundraising, the seven-member water tower committee is looking for more members to join the team.

“At this point, we’re looking for as many people as we can get,” Badeaux said. “... We want to keep the momentum going and keep getting fresh ideas and keep seeing those donations come in.”

The committee meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month. While city hall is under construction, the meetings may be at the police department, fire department or the county courthouse. Those who wish to attend meetings — which are open to the public — should call the city at 218-828-2307 or check the city’s website for the location prior to each meeting. Applications for committee positions are available at city hall or online at https://bit.ly/2SwQ4Rt .

Anyone who wants to donate financially to the tower can do so in several ways. Donations can be made online via the city’s website at https://bit.ly/2EU9Myq or through a GoFundMe page at https://bit.ly/2MLJWRV . A 3.61% service fee will be applied to all donations through the city’s website. GoFundMe collects 2.9% of the funds raised and charges $0.30 per donation.

Cash and check donations can be dropped off at or sent to Brainerd Community Action, 321 S. Seventh St. Suite 105, Brainerd, MN, 56401. Checks can be made out to Brainerd Community Action, and all donations should include a note to earmark the funds to save the water tower. Donations can also be dropped off at city hall as long as they are earmarked for the water tower as well.

If the committee does not ultimately raise enough money to save the tower, donations of $250 or more will be eligible for refunds. The rest of the funds raised will go to Brainerd Restoration.

Anyone with fundraising ideas can contact the water tower committee through city hall or attend a monthly meeting.

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“We’ve got a lot of fun stuff planned in the next year, but it’s still going to be a lot of hard work just to keep going and moving to that next phase,” Badeaux said. “And the big thing that we really want people to know is that it’s all about that roof. And we’re now in sight of that roof, and once we get the dollar amount for it, we can really start achieving moving towards that goal.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
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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