Errors Cause OH Water Tower Painting Delay
Work has been delayed for the repainting on a water tower in Perrysburg, Ohio, after contractors used the wrong color paint and the wrong logo stencil. The elevated water tank is being repainted after a routine inspection in January 2020 found corrosion that needed to be removed.
The decision to maintain the water tank’s original design, which features silhouettes of families and the city’s name, also sparked controversy after racist jokes reportedly circulated on social media about the color of the artwork.
Repaint Plans, Debate
A new paint job was required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following the discovery of corrosion in a January 2020 inspection. The cinspection determined that corrosion would need to be removed, and the structure then recoated.
In November, the council approved a $438,725 contract with Seven Brothers Painting Inc. In total, $800,000 had ben budgeted for the project. The council also approved spending up to an additional $55,000 for new rebranding and paint colors.
The contract included the basic city logo on the water tower, and the initial bid did not include the silhouettes.
PERRYSBURG — Several contractor mistakes have slowed progress on the water tower repainting project. https://t.co/TyjwbtEkeL— Sentinel-Tribune (@sentineltribune) July 5, 2022
In February, Administrator Bridgette Kabat said that like many building materials, the price of paint has gone up during the last year. Kabat reported that the current price of the specialized paint needed for the project is $250 to $300 per gallon.
Alternative ideas were reportedly discussed, such as having a local artist create a new design, but due to time constraints and rising material costs, these were abandoned. The project also had a narrow window of time to be completed due to weather and heat, as well as the water tower needing to be drained during the process.
However, the silhouette design also sparked controversy. Mayor Tom Mackin said several people told him there were “negative racial overtones” associated with the art.
“The administration is concerned about that and that’s why we made another recommendation,” Mackin said at the time. “I also think it’s fiscally responsible. And again we have to be mindful that the community is changing and becoming more diverse.”
“When I look at that sentiment, to me it’s not the water tower that’s the problem. Racial jokes are going to be made no matter what we do and changing a water tower is not an appropriate reaction to that,” said Councilman Cory Kuhlman.
“Changing the culture that we live in, in our community, and trying to harbor diversity here, which I think our administration is doing a great job at, by the way—I’m not taking a shot at that—but changing a water tower, because one joke is being made, is not fixing a problem. Most jokes hurt when there is a hint of truth to them.”
He suggested making Perrysburg a more diverse and welcoming place, and said that it is “the people who are willing to make those jokes that are the problem.”
Later that month, in an interview with the Sentinel-Tribune, a colleague of the water tower’s original artist, George Moy, told reporters that racial issues about the art were not mentioned as the water tower work evolved. Lynn Sojak worked with Moy, who has since passed, with graphic design firm Summit Communications.
“It was designed by a non-white person, and it’s been up there for about 30 years,” Sojak said. “When we did it 30 years ago, the issues of racial diversity and inclusion, that wasn’t really anything that people were talking about, not that it didn’t exist … but it wasn’t at the top of the mind, especially with white people. … It was nothing controversial.”
Sojak continued that she thinks it is “very appropriate” that people are upset that the plan is to repaint the structure as it was.
“I think the twist they are taking on it is that these are Black figures on a light-colored background, so they are playing off of that,” she noted. “But there is no one up there that appears to be of any other background, you know everyone appears to have white, or flowing hair, and there are no diverse body sizes. As far as I remember, there is no one shown with a disability. So it’s not a very inclusive look up there.”
In March, City Councilman Mark Weber said he researched the original council minutes from 1993 and talked more with community members, noting he no longer supported repainting the tower with the existing design.
“The common theme was that Perrysburg was a wonderful family community and the place to raise a family. In my opinion, that has not changed. Perrysburg is still a wonderful place to raise a family, but the artwork on the water tower may have represented what Perrysburg looked like 29 years ago. But I realize that it’s not what Perrysburg looks like today,” Weber said. “While it does show a family friendly message, it does not represent all families.”
Weber added he discovered that the art was supposed to be painted hunter green. Black was instead used, because the contractor would not guarantee that any other color than black would last. The ideas for the artwork were also chosen, at least in part, by Perrysburg Junior High art students and members of the community.
“Changing the silhouettes from black to blue will not do anything to update the scene, nor will it make the derogatory joke go away. Since the original stencils do not exist, it would not make sense to endure the extra cost to remake those stencils,” Weber said.
However, in a narrow vote, the city council approved the mural of the silhouettes to be repainted in a 4-3 vote in May. The increase in cost to add the silhouettes was expected to be $47,000.
Because the original stencils were discarded years ago, drone cameras were used to digitally copy the silhouette designs to replicate during the repaint. The color, however, will be changed to cobalt blue to match city colors.
The water tower was drained on May 11 and turned over to the contractor on May 13 for abrasive blast-cleaning and painting.
According to reports, Seven Brothers Painting bought black paint, as opposed to the updated blue color, and used the old stencil for the city’s name on the tank. The error has since been painted over.
“It’s my understanding that the water tower contractor used the wrong color paint for the silhouettes, as per the addendum. It will be rectified and the contractor will be paying for it, because it was their mistake,” Councilwoman Jan Materni said.
During original council discussions, the contractor reportedly estimated a cost of $300 per gallon for the paint. The cost to paint the silhouettes had amounted to $47,000, out of an originally projected $55,000.
City officials noticed the error when performing a routine progress check as painting began on June 30. The error has since been repainted over, but officials confirm that the information sent to the contractor was correct.
“They started painting it on Thursday and it was the wrong color and the wrong font,” said Marie Dunn, public information officer for the city. “The stencil for the word Perrysburg was incorrect. It was still the old one.”
Work is expected to resume once the new paint color arrives, anticipated to arrive within 10 days. The contractor will then finish the lettering and silhouettes. Afterwards, it will take two to three days to fill the tower, in addition to testing to confirm efficacy of the water.
The original plan anticipated the project to be completed before summer. However, the new estimated date for finishing the project has been pushed back at least two weeks.