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Painter Dispute Wipes Smile From Tower

Thursday, September 5, 2013

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An unfinished paint job has erased the beloved signature smile from the water tower of a New Jersey Shore town and plastered a big, fat frown on the faces of its 895 residents.

"It's our identity. The smiley face. It's interesting, the amount of lives that have been affected by something like this," Longport, NJ, Mayor Nick Russo told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The feud over the now-faceless tower stems from a $598,500 contract awarded in 2011 to Beckett Enterprises Inc. of Malaga, NJ, for structural repairs and repainting, according to borough meeting records.

Repainting the tower's iconic smiley face and town slogan (Longport, The Best Port) was part of the design specifications, Russo said.

Longport smiley water tower
Flickr / gaila3

Longport Mayor Nick Russo called the water tower painting project a "very disappointing process."

However, work on the 125-foot-tall, 500,000-gallon tower stopped midway through the project, and City Solicitor Pat Agnellini said that the borough was now in discussions with Beckett's bonding company, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

"The smiley face will be back," Agnellini, a Longport native, vowed in early May. "It's just a question of how quickly."

Four months on, however, the tower remains blank; the project, stalled.

Now, the borough is withholding $52,000 from Beckett Enterprises, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

'Disappointing Process'

The vanishing smile unleashed a flood of phone calls and emails from residents. Russo's office responded with a press release.

"This (the water tower repair/repaint) was a very disappointing process," Russo said in the release. "The Borough of Longport is currently in a dispute with the contractor and, when that is resolved, the 'Happy Face' will be painted on the side of the tower."

The unfinished project was discussed as far back as December 2012, when Beckett Enterprises representative Elmer Beckett told the Borough Commission at a meeting that the business had experienced hardships.

Beckett Enterprises
Facebook / Longport, NJ

The borough of Longport is withholding $52,000 of a $598,500 contract from Beckett Enterprises after the painter failed to finish the job and signature happy face.

“We completed all the sandblasting, the intermediate coat is fully done, and the final coat is fully done,” Beckett said at the December meeting, Shore News Today reported.

“All we need to do is put the logo on it and some repairs to make on the anchors, pull the containment beams off the top—but it was windy today, so it should be done tomorrow. We are pretty much wrapping it up other than getting the logos back up,” Beckett said.

Phone calls to Beckett Enterprises this week went unanswered, and a message said the company's answering system was turned off.

Community Fabric

The happy face has been a fixture on Longport's landscape for more than 30 years. For natives and visitors, the smile is part and parcel of the borough's identity.

(Indeed, Russo spoke briefly to PaintSquare News in a phone call interrupted by a bad connection that he blamed on the lack of the smiley face. Others suggest that the smile is a community talisman that could have protected the town from storms.)

Long-Term Issues

Longport has since hired a third party, All-America Services, Inc., located in Maryland, to determine the costs of repairs still to be completed. Municipal Engineer Richard Carter told the Press of AC in August that finishing the project will cost at least $120,000.

Carter referred a Sept. 3 request from PaintSquare News for more information to the solicitor due to legal issues. However, he wrote in an email, "From an Engineering position, the happy face is merely a small part of work that needs to be completed."

Some of the incomplete work could "affect the long-term use of the tank" if not finished, Carter told the Press of AC. For example, he said, anchor bolts left unpainted are now rusting.

The water tower is at least reportedly functioning and delivering water.


Tagged categories: Contractors; Contracts; Disputes; Paint application; Painting Contractor; Tanks

Comment from Billy Russell, (9/5/2013, 4:24 AM)

598,500 on a half million Gallon wow, and Anchor bolts are rusting already, this is a clear example of why The water Tank industry needs more "Qualified/Experienced" 3rd Party Inspections on site on Day 1 of the Project not brought in to do a final inspection which is typical Today.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/5/2013, 8:10 AM)

Also looks like the town got ahead on the pay schedule if $52K is all they have left.

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