I see national politics is still simmering on the front burner of our local opinion page. Some of my fellow columnists are busily reconstructing Mr. Obama as a centrist others while others are varnishing Mr. Bush’s otherwise disastrous career with a glossy coat of compassionate conservativism. In stark contrast to these larger-than-local insights, I’ve been thinking about that new paint on the West Bend water tower.
It started like this: driving back from Minneapolis on Saturday we stopped for lunch at the Norske Nook in Osseo. Osseo is a cute little town but, apart from offering weary travelers a rest stop with pie (and those delicious hot sandwiches with gravy your gramma used to make), there is not much to the place – except this: Osseo has a snazzy water tower. It’s the typical mushroom shaped bulb, but it has the words “Osseo Est. 1857” written in the snappiest whiplash-causing two-color font you’ve ever seen. I got excited about being in Osseo solely on the basis of their font selection. “Wow,” I thought. “Osseo!”
Now remember, I’m talking about Osseo, Wisconsin. No matter. The pizzazz in that font made me feel like I’d been somewhere.
OK, so have you noticed the new paint on the main West Bend tower? Does our font selection strike anyone as snazzy? Does it make you think, “Wow, West Bend!”
The font on our utility bills is more inspiring than the font on the city’s water tower.
I felt like we weren’t keeping up with the Joneses. I mean, what does it say about West Bend that Osseo has a cooler water tower than we do – not to mention Eagle and Oconto Falls? (They have smiley faces on theirs. Really. In fact, turns out there are entire Web sites devoted to photos of water towers with smiley faces on them. Surely, another sign that the end times are upon us. The mark of the beast?)
I felt better about this, however, after talking to one of the guys at West Bend’s Public Works Department. He patiently answered my water tower related questions even though this rotten cold I have made it hard to concentrate. (Thanks Jim!)
It is possible that water towers are not an important part of your day but, you know, when you drive by them every day you begin to identify them as landmarks for where you live. You start to take them personally. My water tower, the Barton water tower, is prominently blue and that distinguished us from the rest of West Bend.
After the main tower was re-painted and the shroud was removed to reveal a color selection identical to Barton’s, I thought “Ha, maybe West Bend just wants to be more like Barton.” Not true, alas. All of West Bend‘s water towers are scheduled to be repainted “Barton blue” when their time comes. (Jim didn’t call it that, but that’s what I’m planning to call it from now on.)
I also asked about the boring BLOCK LETTER font selection and mustered all the irritable-citizen-complains-to-publicworks I could. Unfortunately, the explanation made sense.
Are you sitting down?
It cost $435,000 to paint the main water tower this year. Seriously. And nearly half the cost was in the labor required to install and manage the protective shroud. The name in block letters was included in the price, but fancier graphics would’ve cost thousands and thousands of dollars more in labor.
I had some sticker shock thinking about spending half a million dollars every 20 years to paint these tanks but, it turns out, they earn their keep. Have you seen the cell phone antennae stuck all over the city water towers? The city rents that space to the cell phone companies for serious money.
In 2008, (drum roll) $120,555.
So, I’m torn about this. On the one hand it feels like buying a car. You think, “Hey, it’s pretty darned expensive already, so why not get the moon roof and a nicer stereo?” On the other hand, we are talking about spending tax dollars for a font on a water tower. Saving thousands of dollars means a new plow, more salt or sand or maybe a new squad car or fire truck.
Font or fire truck? That is the question.
And yet, I keep thinking about Osseo.
I know I know. With this kind of hard hitting commentary what's next, kittens?
Hmmm. Maybe socialist kittens.