Can Culver Think Outside the Box?

I was pretty disappointed in the Culver Town Council at their last meeting where they addressed the wind turbine ordinance presented to them by the Plan Commission.  It will probably cost Culver any opportunity to expand their Extended Territorial Zoning Boundary, but as so often happens, the voice of the few has outweighed the apathy of the many.  So be it.  But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about Water Towers!

During the above discussion, Ginny Munroe, Town Council President, expressed a comparison between wind turbines and the town water towers.  She complained that she considers the town water towers necessary evils that are blights on the Culver skyline.  But what is Culver doing about it?  Apparently nothing, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some thoughts.  Ha!  I’m not an engineer, so I’m not saying any of these would work, but here are some ideas Culver could explore:

  1. Do away with one or both existing towers in favor of variable speed (constant pressure) pumps.  The theory behind a water tower is that by pumping water up into the tower, generally 120′ in the air, water pressure is created in the lines via gravity.  This also provides some reserve capacity for when pumps break down or when the usage exceeds the well capacity.  What if we invest the cost of a water tower into new pumps, backup pumps and the new well that has been suggested in recent years?  In residential wells, the equivalent of the municipal water tower is the pressure tank.  Most new residential wells forego the pressure tank in favor of a constant pressure pump.  Is this an option?
  2. Change the look of the tower so it’s not an eyesore and maybe becomes a landmark.  I’ve seen a water tower that looks like a peach in Georgia.  Honolulu has one that looks like a pineapple.  When I visited my grandparents in Lakeland, FL, there was a water tower that looked like a layer cake including candles on top.  Maybe they should have had this one shaped like a coffee pot or this one shaped like a cup and saucer nearby to complete the dessert menu…  But instead, Plant City, just down the road, known for their strawberries painted their tower as a strawberry.  I’m not suggesting any of these as I think they are generally quite gaudy, but these communities have become known for their towers.  Culver is all about tourism these days… This would be one way to embrace this.  (Google “Interesting Water Towers” and you will find pumpkins, corn cobs, water melons, and smiley faces galore!)
  3. But what could be done beyond minor shape changes and paint?  Ms. Munroe complained that the town water tower was a blight on the skyline as the highest structure in town.  I’m not sure who gets the honor of changing the light bulb in the warning light on top of the tower, but can you imagine what the view is from there?  Wow!  I’m guessing the view of the lake is spectacular!  I’m guessing the view of the Culver Academies campus is equally breathtaking.  Could the water tower double as an observation deck?  Touring the fire watch towers in National Parks and National Forests provide destinations for tourists wanting a perspective not otherwise available.  Culver could probably charge admission!  Maybe space could be sufficient to lease to a restaurant or as an event location.
  4. And finally, how about a mixed use proposal.  Just standing back and looking at the super structure that holds up the water tank reminds me of the structural steel that forms the structure of a building.  Could the water tower become Culver’s first skyscraper?  It would seem to me that the modifications to the steel required to hold up the tower would be doable.  What needs could we fulfill?  A new location for the Town Hall/Police Station?  There would be ample space with some room for expansion with rental office space leftover.  The Town has discussed the need for a new fire station.  What could be more appropriate than moving the fire station here?  It could double as a fire watch tower.  What about affordable housing?  Talk about rooms with a view!  There’s ample parking for any of these plus the option of reclaiming the old fire station and fire station parking lot for new parking closer to the Town Park and Midtown businesses.

The problem with water towers is that they are generally designed by engineers.  Engineers are all about efficiency.  Straight lines.  Function.  Tell an engineer how many cubic feet of storage you want and they will design a structure that provides just that amount of storage as efficiently as possible.  (One of my favorite engineer jokes is:  Engineers are neither optimists or pessimists. i.e. the glass is neither half-full or half-empty…  it’s just the wrong size glass.)  There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want.  But the structures that are memorable are more than that. They include that function but within a framework that is art or whimsy or something that sticks in your memory in a visceral way.  Barring #1 above which is a straight engineering solution, can Culver think outside the box and make a statement with their new water tower?

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