Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Nov-Dec 2017 issue

Two-Way Street: Has Your City Updated Its Water Tower?

Joel Braegelman, Water and Heating Supervisor, Willmar JOEL BRAEGELMAN
Willmar (Population 19,848)
The City of Willmar has three water towers to serve approximately 6,500 customers. One serves the north side of town, and the other two serve the rest of Willmar.

In planning for 2017, the city determined that the Willmar Avenue tower on the southwest side of town was due for repair, cleaning, and painting. The last time it had been restored was in 1988, nearly 30 years ago.

New, improved process
When we prepared the bid requirements, we looked at how things were handled in the last restoration and what could be improved upon. One thing that stood out was the need to require a containment curtain to reduce dust and debris to areas outside the immediate job site. This also helped reduce additional cleanup costs to area homeowners.

Another upgrade we wanted was a company that could provide a long-term maintenance contract for repairing, cleaning, and painting all our water towers. In addition, we needed a company that could work within our financial goal of paying for the project as a part of our rate structure. In the end, we contracted with a company that met these goals at the lowest cost.

Bumps in the road
Of course, a project like this always has its challenges. One challenge was creating the scope of the contract for the bid process. We wanted to make sure we had detailed standards listed but still allowed for a contractor to bring in their own ideas on how to complete the project. The company we chose was perfect.

Another challenge was handling tower attachments such as cellular antennas. We worked for approximately one year coordinating with the owners of these attachments. There was extensive communication with them on how the project would progress and the timelines for removal and reinstallation of the attachments.

The owners were responsible for removing their own attachments in a timely manner. Overall, the entire process went smoothly with everyone working together to complete tasks as needed.

A project with many benefits
Now that the project is complete, we have a water tower that is not only more attractive with a fresh coat of paint, but it also has a longer life cycle, thanks to the repairs and cleaning. In addition, our long-term maintenance contract with a firm specializing in this type of work allows us to maintain stable water rates, which benefits the customers we serve.

Susan Marstein, Mayor of HoldingfordSUSAN MARSTEIN
Holdingford (Population 718)
Holdingford’s water tower is a 200,000-gallon, single-pedestal tank. It was 20 years old and showing its age. The outside was mildewed and yellowed. Problems inside— such as venting, weld repairs, corroding, and other code infractions—all pointed to the fact we could not put off updating it any longer.

In the spring of 2016, our engineering firm prepared bidding specifications, and we solicited bids. We had quite a few bid prices, and the one we chose was the lowest, but, importantly, the company had references for water tower projects like ours that they had done in the area.

Shutting down the tower
We immediately began having meetings to prepare for shutting down the water tower. We knew we would be totally reliant on the power grid to keep our well pumps running full-time to provide our residents and businesses with water.

If we lost power, we would have no water. If we had no water and had a fire—we would have a big problem! We decided to rent a generator to be the standby power for the wells. It was expensive and, as it turned out, we never had to use it, but it was worth it to be on the safe side.

Challenges along the way
We decided to schedule the project for summer 2017, when the schools are out, since they are the biggest users of water. Work began right after the Fourth of July. We set the completion date a week-and-a-half before school started. This would give us some extra time if the contractor had a problem.

While the water tower was offline, our water system essentially had no storage, and it does not work very efficiently under those conditions. We had challenges with keeping consistent water pressure, and keeping the chlorine and fluoride at steady rates.

Also, with no storage, you must use a valve to release water to prevent the pressure from getting too great in the system. This caused us to double our water usage.

Weather was another challenge. We had delays due to rain and humidity, so we didn’t make our planned completion date. But the tower was back in service just in time—on the Friday before school started!

A good investment
The total cost of the project was $161,500, which we paid for with money from our reserve fund, and it was well worth it! The tower looks awesome, and the inside is as bright and new as the outside. We expect it to be good for another 20 or more years.

Read the Nov-Dec 2017 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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