Platte City's famous orange water tower could end up as large decoration

Whenever DJ Gehrt warns about eyes glazing over and boring conversation, I tend to perk up a little bit.

First, it’s usually a good reminder that I’m not paying good enough attention at a Platte City meeting, and second, interesting tidbits usually follow. Platte City’s city administrator can be sly with how he gives out what can be viewed as interesting information.

Occasionally, I’m the only who joins the Platte City Board of Aldermen and other officials at meetings so I try to make sure you hear the fun stuff, too.

Last week, the public works subcommittee gave a detailed report on funding for major upcoming projects in the water and wastewater systems. Saving about $250,000 per year. Still in good position. Using most of the wastewater money as fast as it comes in, keeping healthy reserves for the water.

Yawn. Check the phone. When will this be over?

Then I hear a mention of the orange water tower in town, and the whole dynamic changes a bit. This didn’t end up being the big news out of this particular meeting, but it certainly was the most interesting part.

According to Gehrt, the orange water tower could be ready to go out of commission in the next decade, if the elected officials choose to go that direction.

This news was a bit devastating at first. Most of us who grew up here can remember watching the old Sonny Hill Motors commercials where the actor cowboy quickly ranted that it was located “right by the Platte City water tower.”

For many used to passing Platte City on Interstate 29 and not stopping, the water tower was the beacon, the reminder of Platte City.

I’ll admit I panicked a little bit as I thought of the orange colossus being disassembled piece by piece set to be sent off to a salvage yard. Just wouldn’t seem right for the town’s icon to go out that way, and at least for now, I wouldn’t worry about that too much.

The water tower, built in 1968, has some issues that can’t be overlooked, making construction of a new water tower a likely event in the relatively near future.

The last time the city bid out a price for repainting, the news didn’t come back good. The job would run more than $300,000 due to insurance costs and the likely need to shroud the structure due to the specialized spray potentially affecting I-29 traffic and the Roberts Chevrolet dealership.

The fresh coat of orange would cost about half as much as the structure is currently worth, not much of an investment. 

Also, the tower has a capacity of just 250,000 gallons, while the east side water stand can hold 1.6 million gallons. In addition, the water level must be closely monitored. Despite the appearance of standing tall, the tower actually sits fairly low in comparison to some of the land it serves, and the nursing home at the top of Mill Street can lose water pressure pretty quickly if a hot summer spell dries out the tank too much.

A location on the west side of town, closer to the Platte River, would be ideal for a new water tower when the time comes to move on.

However, Gehrt readily acknowledged the “icon” status of the orange water tower, and that citizens and elected officials could work to keep it standing. Hendricks added that once it’s out of service, you can use any kind of paint you want and do it with rollers if you want.

So that could be the future for the orange water tower in Platte City: a really large, decorative statue of sorts.

Platte City seems to have hit the age where a lot of recognizable structures have come into question. Main Street continues to be a bit of hit and miss with attracting and retaining business with the outdated building structures presenting challenges. The former Platte City High School, now used as a municipal court and community center, could be slated for demolition sooner rather than later due to a lack of functionality.

Now, the water tower comes into question.

If you pay attention to Gehrt, he often talks about spending responsibly when it comes to these types of quandaries. Holding onto sentiment vs. being a good steward of taxpayer money can lead to difficult and occasionally unpopular reactions for those wishing to hold on to the past.

At least in this instance, there appears to be a workable solution if you listen closely to the details. We can keep the tower without the water if we want.

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.