Instead of being asked gardening
questions, a common question visitors and locals alike have been asking is ‘What is that white covered tower on the island?’ The tower in question is the water tower that has been wrapped in protective plastic while repair work has been done.
The water tower was first built in 1940–41 primarily to hold fresh water that would be used for laundry services. The Federal penitentiary provided laundry service for the Army and inmates were put to work doing laundry. The sea air and wind have been punishing the tower ever since.
For the past year, workers have been busy removing rust, safely removing lead paint, repairing the iron work, and painting the structure with a coat of primer (Macropoxy 646) and two coats of finish paint (Sher-Cryl), the same paint that is used for painting the Golden Gate Bridge, except the water tower is not done in ‘International Orange’.
The work began with the construction of the scaffolding last October 24, 2011 and it was amazing to just watch the ant-like workers build up the scaffolding. The scaffolding was then wrapped in a heavy duty white plastic tarp for a few reasons – reduce disturbance of nearby nesting seabirds, safety of the workers and lead abatement. In a funny way, locals that have gazed at the outline of the island for years suddenly forgot what was there before it was wrapped.
This past week, I was invited for a trip up to the top of the water tower, somewhere I had never been before on the island! Walking into the tent at the bottom, I had to smile seeing a clump of Chasmanthe emerging; ever resilient, this island survivor never gives up.
On a windless day, walking up the levels of scaffolding was easy and the plastic wrapping hid just how far off the ground I was. Apparently, on a windy day, the whole structure hums.
Kyle Winn, project superintendent for MTM Builders Inc. explained the more fascinating parts of the repair work.
How many workers on the crew? 11 to erect the scaffolding, 5 to do the steel repairs and 3 to paint the structure.
How much original metal is left on the structure? Approximately 85% of the steel is original.
Where did the new steel come from? Kentucky.
How many gallons of paint were used? 350 gallons.
How long did it take to paint? 2 months.
How much did the repairs cost? $1.541 million.
The catwalk around the top of the tower is still original and Kyle was impressed with the quality of steel used when the tower was first constructed. The walking platform is about ½ inch in thickness and solid, not showing any signs of rust. Kyle pointed out the name of the company where the original steel was made – Tennessee. New construction consisted of a new roof along with the supporting top one foot of the water tank itself.
The repaired tower will not hold any water,
but its reconstruction was important as the water tower contributes to the National Historic Landmark that Alcatraz is. The Native American graffiti is also an important part of the island’s history and has been repainted.
The scaffolding is already coming down and the new water tower will be unveiled!