Fate of storm-damaged historic water tower uncertain - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Fate of storm-damaged historic water tower uncertain

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COLUMBUS (WKOW) -- City officials and engineers continue to assess whether a storm-damaged, historic water tower in Columbus is stable enough to remain in place, or needs to be demolished.

While the evaluation of the Chapel Street water tower takes place, plastic fencing and warning signs surround the eighty-five foot high, brick and metal structure, and two households next to the tower remain evacuated.  City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden says there's no timetable yet for their return.

Vander Sanden says during a storm Thursday, bricks were dislodged about fifty feet up the tower, with flying debris breaking a window at one of the evacuated homes.  He says a structural engineer believes lightning hit the tower's metal portion, and the energy of the strike moved down the tower and released the bricks.

Officials say the long-retired water tower was built in 1897.  A plaque on the tower states the structure is "...a sample of a declining number of early stone and masonry municipal water towers."

Neighbor Ashley Birkrem says the tower captivates her seven year old son, who notes its presence, even when the family's driving on a nearby highway.  She realizes if the tower's structural integrity is compromised, it could come down.  "So he would be pretty disappointed."

"Maybe there's a way that if it's taken down, some of it could be preserved as a reminder, a memorial to what was there,"  Vander Sanden says.

Vander Sanden says reinforcing the damaged water tower is also being studied.  He says an engineer with the city's insurer plans to examine the site Wednesday, as will a separate, structural engineer.

"I would be happy if they fixed it up,"  Birkrem says.  "I'm very traditional, so I do like historic landmarks."

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