Effort to replace Idaho Falls water tower moves forward in South Capital Park
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IDAHO FALLS – The Idaho Falls Water Tower has been an iconic part of the city skyline for 84 years, but that will be changing as an effort to replace it moves forward.
A board consisting of nine residents appointed by the Mayor is holding a hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss the permit requirements for constructing a new tower in South Capital Park near the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho.
Kerry Hammon, a city spokeswoman for the project, tells EastIdahoNews.com this is not a hearing for the public to weigh-in.
“The permitting is part of the construction process to make sure we have everything done that we need to (move forward),” Hammon says. “The meeting this week is not to discuss anything other than what is on their agenda, which includes a ‘conditional use permit for a public service facility in a park zone encroaching within 75 feet of a natural waterway or floodway.'”
The tower is currently located near Idaho Falls Power on Capital Avenue and it is essential to the operation of the city’s water system. It holds about 500,000 gallons of pressurized water.
Hammon says the age of the structure, combined with growth in the city is the reason it needs to be replaced.
“We’re growing and we need more capacity,” she says. “This will be a 1 million gallon capacity tower.”
There are also nearly a dozen structural issues with the current tower, according to a document on the city’s website.
The existing tower sits directly over the well that supplies the city with water so the new location needed to be near the current tower.
South Capital Park was selected as the new location during a city council work session last May. It was one of three city-owned sites members of the community could choose from. The other options included a parking lot next to the State of Idaho Building and the parking lot behind Chesbro Music, east of the Idaho Falls Public Library.
The site selection has been a contentious issue for some members of the community. A Facebook group devoted to informing people “about the city’s plan to destroy a much used City Park instead of using an acceptable alternate location that involves gravel and asphalt” has more than 400 members.
“The chosen site for the new water tower will effectively consume the park’s beautiful green space,” one group member wrote. “It appears that few were aware of public hearings which fell at the start of the pandemic. Input came primarily from downtown merchants understandably concerned about losing parking, though one of the proposed sites was a lightly-used lot just north of Willowtree Gallery. Do we trade our parks for parking?”
Catherine Smith, the Executive Director of the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation, has been involved in disseminating information about the project to the public for the last two years. She says it’s disappointing that it’s become such a divisive issue.
“I struggle with understanding how people can claim that they didn’t know or weren’t aware of the public comment process. The sharing of information from the city and the media has been widespread. At some point, the public has to meet us in the middle,” Smith says.
Public discussion about the project began in April 2019 and continued into spring 2020. Between Feb. 18 and March 2, 2020, members of the community voiced their opinions about the three viable site locations.
“At the city council meeting in May, they reviewed all the comments and reviewed all the sites again, the pros and cons. The overwhelming (feedback) we received was do not put it in a place that would significantly impact parking in downtown,” Hammon says.
Several designs are being considered for the new tower. Hammon says the large footprint of the current design along with rust and paint damage is a concern for the city.
“Those four columns you see — that takes longer to paint because there’s more surface area to cover. So that’s a significant, ongoing cost the city would front,” she says.
The tower’s final design hasn’t yet been determined, but Hammon says they’re leaning towards a structure with a single column, similar to the image below.
The current tower is approximately 180 feet tall. Hammon says the water elevation of the new tower must match the water elevation of the current tower.
“Construction is always messy and will require more space at the park during the construction period. However, once constructed, the elevated tower’s footprint, including fencing, will only occupy about 3,000 square feet of the park, which contains more than 100,000 square feet,” she says. “We also plan to restore the park to as good, if not better, condition than it was before we started.”
The current tower was completed in 1937 by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Plans to tear it down have been in the works since 2015 when the city approved its Water Facility Plan. Public Works Director Chris Fredericksen told us in 2019 it won’t be torn down right away. It will remain in use until the new tower is complete.
Details about when construction on the new tower will begin and be completed are not clear. Hammon says there will be more discussion as the project continues to unfold.
Construction is estimated to cost $6.5 million, which is coming from revenue produced through water rates and water fees. There will be no need for any bond or tax raise to pay for it.