An elevated water tower located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA is a significant landmark for the city that can be seen, not only from most of downtown, but from the airport as well, including all air traffic entering or leaving the city. Standing nearly 160 ft (47 m) tall, with the capacity to hold 1 million gal (>3.5 million L), it welcomes city residents, and visitors alike, with its intricate, 11-color design.
The tower was built in the early 1950s and was taken out of service in 2016. The last of eight elevated water towers once in the city, it was scheduled to be demolished as well. The city planned to replace the tower with a ground storage tank and pump station at the same site. The fate of the tower looked bleak, but it was saved when local residents were successful in rallying for its restoration instead.
With the beloved tower spared, the city knew that getting the refurbishment right was essential because it would represent Fort Lauderdale’s image. They decided on a unique, geometric design pattern and began work. The $1.9 million undertaking was not without challenges, but at the end of the day was enormously successful. So much so, in fact, that the project won first place in the prestigious 2019 Sherwin-Williams Impact Awards Program.
Having launched in 2016, this was the fourth year of the awards program. “Each year, we receive many worthy entries for the Impact Awards program,” says Murray Heywood, the North America market manager—water and wastewater at Sherwin-Williams. “This year’s winner happened to have both a unique design and a challenging, long-term restoration.”
Five key categories were considered in choosing the Impact Awards winners. “Sherwin-Williams wanted the Impact Awards to be more than a beauty contest,” notes Heywood. “It’s not the aesthetics that make the winner, but rather the challenges and how the project team overcame them.” Therefore, the judges rated the projects on community impact, difficulty of the project, challenges overcome/project obstacles, solutions provided, and project satisfaction.
Judges consisted of six industry experts who judged each of the five categories with a 1-to-5 rating. Potentially, each project could earn 25 points per judge, for a combined total of 150 points. “After tabulating the votes, the three top contenders were quite close,” remarks Heywood. “The difference between first and second place was just six points, and the difference between second and third place was one point. I would call that a tight race.”
Project Details and Design
The nearly 70-year-old fixture of the downtown Fort Lauderdale skyline needed an extensive renovation, including replacing ladders and railings, making structural repairs, and recoating the tank inside and out. In June 2018 the work began, but the tank was not completed until a year later due to some additional metalwork required to repair steel structures on the tank.
City officials chose a unique geometric-patterned design created by artist, educator, and curator Peter Symons. They also approved the inclusion of a slogan, “All-America City—Fort Lauderdale,” which repeated on four faces of the tower.
A crew from professional service and contracting firm SUEZ Advanced (Atlanta, Georgia, USA) started the tower restoration by cleaning, sandblasting, and coating the entirety of the tank’s interior. Applicators abrasive-blasted all interior surfaces to the SSPC-SP 10/NACE No. 2 “Near-White Metal Blast Cleaning” standard.1 Next, they completed two full applications of epoxy—with a stripe coat applied in between to all sharp edges, corners, and welds—to ensure a high film build on these difficult-to-coat areas.
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 zinc primer coat 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 acrylic polyurethane at 3 mils DFT. The coating was chosen because it delivers excellent color and gloss retention for exterior exposures, helping the refurbished tower maintain aesthetics over the long term.
Jim Kelly, owner of Industrial and Commercial Signs (Conehatta, Mississippi, USA) started the decorative topcoat application in January 2019, and the entire process took four months. The first step was 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 a high-gloss fluoropolymer urethane finish to create an intricate pattern on the entire tank, including its top, underside, legs, and riser. Colors included orange, pink, yellow, gray, white, and various shades of blue and green. Care was taken to choose an ultra-durable coating that provides unparalleled color and gloss performance, considering the severe exposure to heat, sun, and salt air found at the southeast Florida coast.
Following final coatings, inspections performed by OmniTech (Houston, Texas, USA) 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.
Although enormously successful, the project was not without its challenges. For example, applicators had to coat the exterior of the tank during the summer in South Florida, where heat and humidity made the task extremely difficult. Daytime heat can make coatings applications extremely challenging to work with. For instance, the material pot life of the two-component fluoropolymer urethane product on hot days was not even two hours. Therefore, the product had to be mixed in small batches to avoid wasting the expensive material. “Compound that need with a complex geometric pattern featuring 11 colors and painted by hand—while working approximately 150 feet in the air—and the project was challenging for applicators to say the least,” explains Heywood.
Furthermore, coating the tank bottom was a challenge because it features a rib and beam structure, rather than the more common smooth, rounded design. Because of this, coating the underside of the tank was a bit challenging for SUEZ. “The surface has more surface area than it appears,” says Heywood. “Plus, the tank’s geometric design carried across sections, making it challenging for the applicators to line up angles from one section to the next.”
With the tower located in a busy neighborhood and adjacent to residences, businesses, and a school, it was necessary for SUEZ to build a full containment tent to encapsulate the tower during exterior blasting and coating operations. SUEZ installed the tent to prevent debris and overspray from blowing onto nearby buildings and vehicles.
An additional challenge included the amount of time the project took to complete. The project involved replacing ladders and railings, making structural repairs, and recoating the tank inside and out, and was expected to only take about half a year. Unfortunately, the severely deteriorated condition of some steel support structures and other areas prolonged restoration work and coatings applications.
“SUEZ was able to complete about 95% of the interior lining application within about one month,” states Heywood. “But then had to pause while metalworkers replaced an interior platform, performed nondestructive ultrasonic thickness testing and made some repairs. In addition, the final decorative topcoat application was held up while welders repaired some exterior metal structures.”
After approximately one year of work, the tank was finally placed back into service.
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. The landmark was saved from demolition and has a life cycle expectancy of 25 to 30 more years, so winning the Impact Award on top of that is like icing on the cake.
“The project team worked tirelessly on the tank restoration to bring this city landmark back to its rightful state as a welcoming—and now iconic—community billboard,” says Heywood. “The efforts of the entire team ensured a successful rehabilitation that will maintain potable water service and superior aesthetics over the long term.”
1 NACE No. 2/SSPC-SP 10, “Near-White Metal Blast Cleaning” (Houston, TX: NACE International).
Source: Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine, www.sherwin-williams.com/protective.