By Theresa Bourke
BRAINERD — “Not many places can say they have a cement water tower that looks like a castle.”
And not many places can say a United States senator has vowed to climb to the top of that castle-like tower either.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, made the promise Monday, Aug. 21, after a walk inside the tower, remarking on its unique appearance.
“I will plan on walking to the top when the funding is completed,” Klobuchar announced loudly in the presence of city officials. “I will go with the mayor and the council to the top of the tower.”
The funding Klobuchar spoke of is through Congressionally Directed Spending, which allows legislators to consider project proposals from throughout the state.
Thousands of projects from all around Minnesota were submitted for the funding, and Brainerd’s historic water tower is one of about 160, Klobuchar said, that made it through.
“The funding for the Brainerd water tower — the incredible landmark that it is — is in the federal budget right now that is coming through the Senate committee,” Klobuchar said Monday. “So it has been OK’d, it will not be stripped out. The issue is we have to get the budget through the Senate and the House. I’m feeling good about it; it’s bipartisan in the Senate. They’re going to have to figure it out in the House, but there’s no reason, I believe, that we can’t get this done because this is a great project.”
Senator Klobuchar stands in Brained water tower
Brainerd officials will know for sure when the budget is approved later this year if they’ve secured the $500,000 to continue restoring the over-century-old tower.
The money would help pay for new stucco on the tower’s bowl, after chunks have fallen off in recent years, leading the City Council to explore various options for the structure’s future.
The work that began with a small citizen committee fundraising in 2018 became especially noticeable last year, when the new synthetic rubber roof was placed on top of the to help further water damage in the bowl.
One of the next phases is repairing the stucco, but it won’t be cheap. With plans nearly complete, the work is estimated at $2.5 million just to repair the missing stucco on the bowl. Re-stuccoing the entire bowl would be in the neighborhood of $3.4 million, according to city staff.
The congressional funding would put a dent in that cost, as would a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, for which officials have also applied.
The two funding sources could go hand in hand, Klobuchar said, as gaining federal dollars would help Brainerd secure more state funding for the project in the future.
And the senator has big goals for that future.
“I believe in history, but I also believe in attracting people to a town and remembering what binds a town together, and this water tower is such a cool story,” Klobuchar said. “So I hope we can expand it even more to have, not only the tower preserved, but make it even more accessible for people in town and visiting guests to be able to see this tower because it’s such a great story.”
Klobuchar marveled at the stone archway entrance to the tower, hidden inside the Breen & Person Law Office on North Sixth Street.
“Seeing the tower really helps me make the case to my colleagues because, like I said, there’s thousands of projects just out of the state of Minnesota, and there are hundreds of thousands of projects for the country,” she said. “... It just helps me to tell the story and make the case.”
Klobuchar related the tower — which hasn’t held water for the city since the 1960s — to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, which pays tribute to a ship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628.
“People get in line to go see the remains of this ship. This is a lot better,” she said motioning to the water tower. “At least it worked for 40 years. But the point is, is that it also has a story of engineering that works for a while and then doesn’t and helps kids to understand history in a very, very cool way.”
At the same time the water tower funding is being pushed through, Klobuchar said she and legislators also continue to work on modern water infrastructure as well as highway safety.
“And that means more work on 210,” she said, noting she is working with Brainerd officials on a grant for that project, too.