MACON — All good things come to those who wait.
And the dearest desire of the city fathers in Macon was to have 300,000 gallons of water suspended 120 feet in the air above their heads.
Their wish came true in November, when construction began on the town’s new water tower. The basic building work is done, leaving the unpainted tower with its welded seams rising toward heaven and looking like it’s been wrapped in a metal patchwork quilt.
“We’ve been trying to get this in place for over five years,” said Ed Aukamp, city administrator. He added that the tower will start filling by the fall, once wiring and other internal chores are completed.
“Having this new tower means I’m sleeping a lot better at night, too,” added Aukamp, 43.
He said the old water tower, which dates to the 1930s, only holds 60,000 gallons, so all it needed was one good midnight water main break — “one of the things we don’t like to talk about,” said Aukamp — and your town water tank gets empty real fast. “You’re under a lot of pressure to get it fixed,” he said.
Life hasn’t been easy in the summer, either, with thirsty farmers’ irrigation needs and other demands pushing consumption rates beyond 200,000 gallons of water a day. Modern requirements call for water towers to have a reserve capacity of a day and half supply for their town’s needs, but Macon was having to refill its emptying tower in peak periods at the rate of three or four times a day.
Macon, population 1,138, first tried to persuade the federal government that its need for a new water tower was a good “shovel-ready project,” but the government’s $800 billion stimulus package said “no” to stimulating water storage. Early cost estimates suggested the new tower could swallow a $1.2 million price tag, and the city council was left to paddle its own canoe and come up with the funding.
The good news here turned out to be the sunken economy and 40 percent evaporation in order volume for the specialist firms that build water towers. That made the fiercely competitive bidders for Macon’s project boil down their estimates as much as they could, and the city lucked in again by financing the cost with a revolving loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
“And part of their package was a 25 percent principal forgiveness,” Aukamp said. “So we ended up with $200,000 of the total cost that we’re not going to have to pay back. With all that included, we’re now looking at the final cost of the project to us being like $630,000, which means it’s coming in about half of what some of the original cost projections were.”
But even in the Garden of Eden there was a serpent, and the city had encountered some residential turbulence when it increased water rates by 30 percent three years ago in anticipation of the tower project. But that was the first significant increase in about 15 years, and those who felt their glass was half full, Aukamp said, have mellowed after watching the final cost of the project cascade downward.
It’s still going to take the next 20 years to pay it off, but Macon already has pumped enough extra cash into its bank account to meet the payments for the next 24 months. Feeling pleased with itself, the city council also has just signed off on the new tower’s color scheme: The supporting structure up to the bottom area of the bowl will be a deep blue called “Pond,” while most of the tank will be in a light “slate” gray with MACON picked out in another shade of blue called “Cadet Blue.”
There were other color suggestions, however, with some older and nostalgic residents suggesting a rather vibrant shade of purple, which was part of the old Macon High School colors before everything went green after the consolidation with Blue Mound that birthed the Meridian School District.
“I received several phone calls from people giving their opinions on how it should be painted,” Macon Mayor Todd Collins said. “But I think the purple would have been too much: It would have looked like a big, old Barney the dinosaur sitting up there.”