Saving Fort Lauderdale’s Last Water Tower

Jan. 22, 2020
Residents of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., successfully lobbied the city to restore its last remaining water storage tower rather than demolish it, paving the way for the tower to reach iconic status today.

Fort Lauderdale community restores 1-million-gallon elevated storage tank

Sometimes holding onto the past can create a bright, colorful future. Just ask the residents of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who successfully lobbied to retain a nearly 70-year-old fixture of their downtown skyline. Local community members convinced the city to restore its last remaining water storage tower rather than demolish it, paving the way for the tower to reach iconic status today. It now welcomes city residents and visitors with an intricate, 11-color design fitting of the picturesque southeast Florida community.

The challenging restoration of the corroded tank took more than a year to complete. Following extensive repair work and coating applications, the restored 1-million-gallon elevated water storage tank returned to service in June 2019 with a new pristine-lined interior and the colorful exterior decoration. The exterior also features a slogan touting the “All-America City — Fort Lauderdale” repeated on four faces of the 160-foot-tall water tower for full visibility to surrounding areas.

Professional service and contracting firm SUEZ Advanced Solutions performed the coatings restoration work. In addition, OmniTech LLC conducted coatings inspections, and Hazen and Sawyer provided engineering services for the project. The teams’ efforts earned the companies and the City of Fort Lauderdale first place for the 2019 Sherwin-Williams Impact Award.

City Gives New Life to an Aging Asset

Built in the early 1950s and out of service since May 2016, the massive tower was needed to help pressurize water systems serving downtown Fort Lauderdale. The city had already removed seven of its eight elevated storage tanks, and it planned to demolish this final tank in favor of replacing it with a ground storage tank and pump station at the same NW 2nd Avenue site. However, local citizens rallied around the structure, successfully lobbying for its $1.9 million restoration.

With the tower visible from most of downtown Fort Lauderdale, as well as from airplanes landing and taking off from nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the request was not a hard sell. City officials agreed to restore the tower, deciding on slogan and a unique geometric-patterned design created by artist, educator, and curator Peter Symons.

The tank restoration project included replacing ladders and railings, making structural repairs, and recoating the tank inside and out. Work commenced in June 2018, but the tank was not put into service until a year later. The project was expected to only take about half a year. However, the severely deteriorated condition of some steel support structures and other areas prolonged restoration work and coatings applications.

Interior Restoration Moves Fast

A crew from Atlanta, Ga.-based SUEZ started the tower restoration by cleaning, sandblasting, and coating the tank’s complete interior. Applicators abrasive-blasted all interior surfaces to the SSPC-SP 10/NACE 2 Near-White Metal Blast Cleaning standard. Next, they completed two full spray applications of Sherwin-Williams Macropoxy® 646 PW epoxy, with a rolled stripe coat applied in between to all sharp edges, corners, and welds to ensure a high film build on these difficult-to-coat areas. Due to its high-solids content and high-build capabilities, the coating offers ample protection of these areas. The thickness of the two coats equaled roughly 8 to 11 mils dry film thickness (DFT), with an even thicker application on stripe-coated areas.

The fast-drying epoxy coating enabled SUEZ to complete about 95 percent of the interior applications within about one month. However, applicators had to pause while metalworkers replaced an interior stainless-steel platform, conducted nondestructive ultrasonic thickness testing to check some areas of significant deterioration on the top of the tank, and performed repairs. Following this work, SUEZ’s applicators were able to complete the interior lining by October.

Crew Refurbishes Tank Exterior

While waiting to finish the interior lining application, SUEZ prepared to address the tank’s exterior restoration. With the tower located in a busy neighborhood and adjacent to residences, businesses, and a school, SUEZ installed a full containment tent to encapsulate the tower during blasting and coating operations. The tent would help to prevent debris and overspray from blowing onto nearby buildings and vehicles — a precaution SUEZ is especially sensitive about.

“Any water tank project in a neighborhood has the challenge of securing cooperation and understanding with neighbors and surrounding business. It can be a long and loud process with compressors, generators, and paint pumps running frequently,” said Kevin Hamilton, Georgia service center manager for SUEZ Advanced Solutions. “However, the neighbors were highly cooperative and understanding, and we did our best to not interfere with their flow.”

SUEZ then commenced abrasive-blasting and coating applications on the tank’s exterior in September 2018. The crew again blasted all steel surfaces to the SSPC-SP 10/NACE 2 standard, starting with the legs and underside of the tank before moving to the top. Following blasting, the crew applied a primer coat of Sherwin-Williams Corothane® I – GalvaPac 1K zinc primer at 3 mils DFT. The moisture-curing primer gave the crew flexibility for the applications, enabling applicators to spray the coating even during very humid conditions.

For added edge protection, SUEZ also applied a stripe coat of the primer to all weld seams, edges, and corners before applying an intermediate coat of Sherwin-Williams Acrolon™ 218 HS acrylic polyurethane at 3 mils DFT. The coating delivers excellent color and gloss retention for exterior exposures, helping the refurbished tower maintain aesthetics over the long term.

Coating the underside of the tank was a unique experience for SUEZ, as the tank bottom features a rib and beam — rather than smooth — structure. “It’s a tough surface to paint, as it has more surface area than you’d expect and the design creates many challenging angles for the applicators,” said Hamilton.

The fast-drying Acrolon 218 HS coating helped SUEZ make swift progress on the intermediate coat application. Yet, the final decorative topcoat application was held up while welders repaired corrosion on the walkway under the tank and added new ladders and handrails. This work extended the timeline for the project’s completion.

Decorative Topcoat Brings Life to Tower

Jim Kelly, owner of Industrial and Commercial Signs in Conehatta, Miss., started the decorative topcoat application in January 2019, by first hand-drawing the city name and slogan on four sides of the tank and outlining the decorative pattern. He and a small crew then rolled and brushed 11 different colors of the high-gloss Sherwin-Williams Fluorokem™ HS fluoropolymer urethane finish to create an intricate pattern on the entire tank, including its top, underside, legs, and riser. The entire process took four months. Colors included orange, pink, yellow, gray, white, and various shades of blue and green. The premium, ultra-durable coating provides unparalleled color and gloss performance, even in the severe exposures of heat, sun, and salt air found at the southeast Florida coast. These properties will help the tower maintain aesthetics for years to come.

“This is far and above the most detailed logo we’ve done on a water tower,” said Hamilton. “The design is very intricate and turned out beautiful.”

On-site Inventory, Support Keep Project Moving

SUEZ has used Sherwin-Williams coatings extensively for its tank maintenance projects. So, when the company had a choice of using alternative coatings listed in the project specification, it went with what it knew best. However, the decision was made not only based on product expectations but also on service and the ability for Sherwin-Williams to keep applicator crews stocked with coating materials.

“On a project of this size, you can’t lose time waiting for paint to show up on site,” said Hamilton. “Having the right amount of quantity available initially and throughout the project with timely deliveries was huge.”

In addition, Sherwin-Williams provided guidance related to recoat windows, as well as advice for pressure-washing the tank between coats to ensure a clean surface for coating adherence.

City Restores Tower Service

Following final coatings inspections performed by Houston, Texas-based OmniTech and some minor required touch-ups, SUEZ was able to wash and disinfect the tank’s interior. The city of Fort Lauderdale then completed bacteriological testing and placed the tower back into service in late June 2019. The restoration project was well worth the wait, with the colorful tower now welcoming visitors to the “All-America City” and the 1-million-gallon storage capacity helping to pressurize the city’s water systems, provide emergency storage, and serve as a reservoir for peak demand times.

A project of this scope is a collaborative effort between numerous parties to ensure a smooth successful outcome. “The project team worked diligently to bring this city landmark back to its rightful state as a welcoming – and now iconic — community billboard,” said Steve Hillberg, project manager for the City of Fort Lauderdale. “The efforts of the entire team ensured a successful restoration that will help the city maintain potable water service and superior aesthetics over the long term.” WW

About the Author

Murray Heywood

Murray Heywood is the North America market manager of water and wastewater for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine. He has served the coatings industry for more than 37 years, beginning as an applicator for his father’s coating business and continuing today with his focus on effectively supporting the varied product and service needs of the industry. Heywood holds the Master Coatings Inspector Certificate (MCI) from SSPC, as well as Level 3 Certified Coating Inspector (CIP) certifications from both SSPC and NACE International where he also teaches coating inspection courses. He can be reached at [email protected]