‘Tin Man’ coming down

Brookings Municipal Utilities file photo: Brookings Municipal Utilities plans to take down this 1902 water tower in the 1100 block of Fourth Street and remove the house next to it to make room for a new state-of-the-art tower with more water capacity. Once the new tower is operational, BMU will take down the water tower on Sixth Street as well, as the new Fourth Street tower will more than cover the combined capacity of the old Fourth Street and Sixth Street towers.

City to tear down oldest water tower to make room for new one

BROOKINGS – It would take more than an oil can to save this “Tin Man.” 

That’s why Brookings Municipal Utilities has decided to take down the Fourth Street water tower and build a state-of-the-art water tower on the same location, according to Eric Witt, BMU’s water/wastewater and engineering manager.

The water tower on Fourth Street was built in 1902, and Witt calls it Tin Man because the silhouette of the riveted tank is reminiscent of the Tin Woodman in “The Wizard of Oz” movie.


The age and style of the Tin Man are presenting some problems for the city, Witt said.

“I think it’s past its useful life,” he said.

It’s the oldest of the four elevated water towers in Brookings and, at 150,000 gallons, the smallest, he said. Its nearest neighbor, the tank on Sixth Street, is the next oldest and is 250,000 gallons. The one on 22nd Avenue is 500,000 gallons, and the one at Main Avenue South and 20th Street South is 750,000 gallons.

The riveted style of the Tin Man makes maintenance and repair tricky, he said. 

“We need some structural work done to safely access the inside of the tank. The last tower inspection we had, (the tank professionals) actually elected not to get into the tank itself,” Witt reported. “Some of the catwalk and some of the access up on top does not meet current codes, current safety requirements, so there’d be a relatively substantial reconstruction … to make that safe to access again from the interior.”

Even re-coating the outside creates a headache. Paint is for looks, he said, but a coating on steel is a protective barrier for the steel.

“It does need a re-coat again,” Witt said. 

The Tin Man is not a smooth structure like the more modern spheroid tanks (the ones that look like upside down onions), and all those angles and rivets can make getting the coating to adhere tough work.

“The legs and all the cross-bracing, that’s a difficult re-coat,” Witt said. “It’s not so much about the coating system, it’s really about how well you can apply it. So the more angled edges, the more surface area on these – it’s tough to get the coating to adhere.”

The spheroid tanks’ smooth steel takes the coating better, he added.

“And the same goes with the Sixth Street tower. That one is in need of a re-coat as well. The most recent re-coat on that tank has not held up well. And if you drive by, that’s pretty evident,” Witt said.

Since both towers are facing some significant repair costs, BMU has decided to take both of them down and erect one new tower on Fourth Street.

The water tower project affects other services, too. An existing telecommunications tower is co-located on the current water tower. 

On Feb. 26, the Brookings City Council approved a request by BMU for a conditional-use permit to erect a 165-foot temporary telecommunications tower at 1116 Fourth St. 

“The temporary telecommunications tower is necessary to provide cellular service until the new water tower is constructed,” according to the attachment to the Feb. 26 agenda.

The plan

The first thing BMU will do is take down the Tin Man at 1116 Fourth St. and erect a modern 500,000-gallon tank on the site, centering it on the two lots at 1116 Fourth St. and 1110 Fourth St. The new water tower will be about six feet shorter than the Tin Man, which is 135 feet tall. The water pressure will be the same, though.

There is a house on 1110 Fourth St. BMU didn’t want to destroy it because it’s still in “reasonably good condition,” Witt said, so they put out an offer for bids to relocate the house but did not receive any by the deadline.

“(We) still haven’t lost hope for figuring out a way to handle that, other than demolishing that. And I’ve got a little time to figure that out,” Witt said.

Three bids were received on the water tower replacement project, with Maguire Iron out of Sioux Falls submitting the low base bid of $1,347,000. The BMU board approved Maguire’s bid in a meeting Friday.

“When the new tank is built on the Fourth Street site … We’ll operate off this Sixth Street tank while the new one’s getting built … once it’s fully operational, we’ll de-commission the Sixth Street (tower) as well. So we’re putting up a 500,000-gallon tank to replace (two tanks with) a combined 400,000 (capacity),” Witt said.

Dismantling Tin Man

Getting the Tin Man – or any other water tower – down is a bit tricky.

It’s still in use but was declared surplus property so it could be taken down and the steel could be salvaged, Witt said.

“We don’t just throw it in the trash bin; we surplus it,” he said, adding that the salvage value is included in the bid from the contractors. “Municipal laws dictate how we get rid of things, too.”

The actual demolition will require some care.

“They’ll bring a crane in and cut it out and lower it down. They can work in a pretty tight footprint,” Witt said.

Two-year plan

BMU wants to get the home moved off the property no later than June so the contractors can start taking down the Tin Man in July. 

“It’ll kind of be a two-year construction,” Witt said.

The foundation will come first, followed by the tank erection. Witt is hoping that can all be done this year.

“Then the coating needs to be done in the warm weather months, so if you’re heading into fall and you have to do the coating … you need certain air temperatures to do that. So you’re probably gonna run out of season, so it’ll be a two-summer construction project,” he said.

It will be a lot of work, but worth it in the end, he figures.

“We’ll end up with ultimately one less tower in town, but slightly more volume and we’ll replace our two oldest water towers that are both in need of some pretty significant upcoming maintenance,” Witt said. “Going forward, long-term maintenance will be a lot more efficient with a newer style tank.”

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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