When the Historic Highland Water Tower can welcome visitors once again, the structure will show off a fresh look. Saint Paul Regional Water Services recently completed the first major improvements to the tower in decades at a cost of $533,000.
“The tower is 92 years old,” said David Wagner, engineering manager for Saint Paul Regional Water Services. “It’s in great shape for its age, but it needed a little love.”
The tower on Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway was completed in 1928 at a cost of $69,483. It was designed by Clarence W. “Cap” Wigington, the nation’s first African-American municipal architect. The tower can hold 200,000 gallons of water and once served an area that extended north to Dayton Avenue. It has not been used for that purpose for many years.
The tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The tower is 127 feet tall and its placement on the city’s second-highest point of land provides spectacular views from its observation deck.
The structure typically hosts visitors during Highland Fest and every October at the peak of fall colors. However, the pandemic forced cancellation of both public events this year.
“We’re hoping we can open to the public again in the near future,” Wagner said. “We think people will be pleased to see the improvements made. The tower is an icon for the Water Utility, for the neighborhood and for the entire city.”
The last major work on the tower was a tuckpointing project about 40 years ago. The most recent project focused on repairing steps and sidewalks, addressing drainage problems, repainting windows, replacing the door at the top of the 151 steps leading to the observation deck, and repairing the tower’s terracotta and sheet metal roof.
The Water Utility hoped to have all of the work done by winter, but one part of the project will carry over into 2021. The tower’s rooftop cupola still needs repairs to its windows. Accessing the cupola will be a challenge.
“We may have to use a special kind of scaffolding to get up there,” Wagner said.
Demolition of southern water reservoir postponed until 2021
While the Historic Highland Water Tower awaits the final touches to its renovation, the decommissioned water reservoir to its south is being eyed for demolition in 2021.
That work was expected to start this construction season, after Ryan Companies expressed an interest in using some of the demolition debris as construction fill for the new Highland Bridge development on the site of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant. However, the reservoir’s demolition is one of several projects Saint Paul Regional Water Services decided to push back until next year.
Demolition planning and cost estimates for the project are expected to be wrapped up in November. Demolition is expected to take place from April to October 2021.
The 18-million-gallon reservoir was built in 1926, but has not been used since 2014 due to decreased water usage. The Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation plans to convert the 4.3-acre site into sports fields. It is coordinating efforts with Ramsey County, including the construction of a new parking lot and vehicular access at the adjacent Charles M. Schulz-Highland Arena. Until those plans are finalized, the site will be planted with grass after the reservoir is demolished.
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