New subcommittee will explore water tower restoration

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

A subcommittee of the Elk River Heritage Preservation Commission will be formed to explore options for the restoration of the historic water tower in downtown Elk River.

This Elk River water tower is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This Elk River water tower is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Elk River City Council approved the formation of the subcommittee in a 4-0 vote Monday.

The water tower, located near Jackson Avenue and Fourth Street, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The new subcommittee will explore the idea of forming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which could accept tax-deductible donations to be used for the water tower’s restoration.

In a related matter, the City Council agreed to apply for a Minnesota Historical Society Certified Local Government Grant to fund a historic structures report for the water tower.

The report is estimated to cost between $4,500 and $5,000. The grant requires a 40 percent match by the city, or about $2,000. So far $858 has been donated for restoration of the water tower, and that money would help with the grant match.

Council Member Paul Motin questioned whether the report would look at the feasibility of the restoration project itself and the structural integrity of the water tower.

Jeremy Barnhart, Elk River’s community operations and development deputy director, said the report would identify what needs to be done to preserve the water tower and lay out the funding and timing of the work.

Regarding the tower’s structural integrity, no structural assessment of the water tower has been done. That would need to be done before the city could apply for the larger grants to restore it, said Suzanne Fischer, director of community operations and development for the city.

Repainting the water tower has been discussed in the past and continues to be an issue.

Mayor John Dietz, who also chairs the Elk River Utilities Commission, said the cost of repainting the water tower is estimated at $300,000 to $400,000. Part of the reason for the cost is there is lead paint on the tower, which would have to be removed prior to repainting.

A grant to repaint the tower could potentially provide 75 percent of the funding, with a local match of 25 percent, Dietz said.

The cost to demolish the water tower is estimated at $55,000, he said. If the water tower is saved, Dietz said Elk River Municipal Utilities would donate a minimum of $55,000 toward the restoration costs.

Council members indicated they are glad to see the Heritage Preservation Commission exploring options.

“It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the idea of preserving the water tower in the first place, but I’m glad they’re moving forward on it,” Motin said. Both the cost to repaint it and the cost to demolish it have risen since the water tower’s future was considered at least a decade ago, he said.

“Maybe the end result from the planning will be that it’s decided we can’t go forward on (restoring) it, but if they can at least they have the tools to move forward,” Motin said.

The water tower was built in 1920.