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Iconic water tower getting needed facelift

RISKY BUSINESS – Three men work on the downtown water tower as painting and refurbishing begins. Two of the men are on top of the tank, while another is on the catwalk.

by DANNY WADE  |  Senior Editor

Those traveling in and around downtown Humboldt have probably noticed something strange protruding from the top of the water tower. The iconic downtown water tank is getting a much-needed facelift.

The almost 100-year-old water tower has been used as a backdrop for hundreds of photographs over the years. For the past several years, it has slowly declined and is in dire need of some makeup and lipstick to bring her back to her glory.

Humboldt Utilities General Manager Alex Smith said the utility company does not have any records of the water tower due to it being a city project, prior to Humboldt Utilities being established. That said, there is a metal plate that reads “built by Chicago Bridge Iron Works

NAME PLATE – This name plate is bolted to the downtown water tower showing the company that built the tower and the date it was erected.

Builders 1924” located at the base of the tower. There is also a marker embedded in concrete located near one of the tower’s legs from 1934 with US Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Mayor Marvin Sikes said it was Humboldt’s first water tower and has stood tall for almost a century.

Smith explained the steps being taken to preserve the tower. He said workers began moving in equipment in early February. Workers began installing metal supports at the top of the tower to hang a protective skirt around the tank over the last couple of weeks. The skirt is raised when professionals are working and lowered that afternoon. If winds get over 15 mph, the skirt is lowered for protection. Workers cannot work in rain or storms. The skirt or curtain’s main function is to keep debris from being blown all over downtown. Debris will fall to the ground directly under the tower, which also makes it easier to remove and haul off to the landfill.

Last week, a thin primer coat was applied over the existing paint. The primer is used to better bond to the paint, which makes it easier to remove while sandblasting the old paint off. Once the tower is sandblasted, workers will begin painting.

Smith said the project is supposed to be completed before Strawberry Festival week in early May.

G&L Tank, located in Shelbyville, Tenn., was the winning bidder on the project with a cost of $365,000. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but the entire cost is being funded through the Federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Not a single taxpayer dollar will be used to refurbish the historic water tower.

But, that is not the only cost involved. Smith said Humboldt Utilities has put an additional $140,000 in engineering, bids and coating the inside of the bowl. Smith was quick to note that no one’s utility bill will be going up to cover those costs.

In total, refurbishing the tank will cost around a half-million dollars.

Smith said the tank has been out of commission for several years, not due to the condition, but due to its height. It is seven-feet lower than the other four water towers in Humboldt Utilities’ fleet.

“This is an iconic historic landmark of Humboldt,” Smith noted. “We’re glad to partner with the city with grant money to preserve a great piece of Humboldt history.”

As noted before, there are five water towers in Humboldt. The downtown tank is capable of holding 200,000 gallons of water. The Humboldt

CROWNED TOWER – The downtown water tower looks as if she is getting ready for the Strawberry Festival, donning a crown. The tower is scheduled to be completed before festival week.

Industrial Park tank holds 600,000 gallons. The Fort Hill tower holds 300,000. The Bongards water tower also holds 300,000 gallons. The newest water tower is located in the Gibson County Industrial Park and holds a whopping 1.5-million gallons of H2O. On fact that most Humboldtans do not know is a sixth water tank made of concrete located in the ground underneath the water treatment plant that holds 800,000 gallons.

Smith said the Bongard’s tank and Fort Hill tank were repainted within the past 10 years. The Humboldt Industrial Park tank is next in line for painting, which should take place in 2024. That tank was erected when American Woodmark located in the park 22 years ago.

All five water towers are connected to waterlines that run throughout the city. Smith said the water tanks do not service a designated area of town. The reason is tanks periodically have to be drained and inspected, yet customers still have ample water for their homes and businesses.

Humboldt Utilities has a water capacity study being performed on the water system, according to Smith. He said the city averages around 3.5-million gallons of water use each day. The current water treatment plant has a capacity of 5-million gallons per day.

“With the projected growth in Humboldt and West Tennessee from Blue Oval City and other industries located in the area, Humboldt Utilities continues to be proactive to make sure we’re ready for future growth,” Smith said.

CURTAIN CALL – A massive skirt or curtain is draped all around the water tower to keep paint and sand debris from spreading all over the downtown area. The curtain is raised and lowered each day and restoration cannot take place with winds 15 mph or higher while the curtain is up.

For now, the ole ‘gal’ standing tall in downtown Humboldt is in the midst of a major makeover. She will continue to be a beacon for Humboldt in all her glory. Come Strawberry Festival time, you can bet she will be posing for even more pictures that week—and for years and years to come.

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