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Pumpkin boosters want to squash water tower demolition
A graphic illustration of what the Wetmore Street water power could look like as a pumpkin. - photo by Photo illustration by AMY ABERER/The Bulletin

The Great Pumpkin could one day look down on downtown Manteca.

Ben Cantu is organizing support to lobby the Manteca City Council to spare the 50-year-old water tower on Wetmore Street from demolition. Six years ago it was deemed unsafe in the event of a moderate earthquake by the structural engineering firm of Showerman Hawn & Stone. Testing had determined the weight load on the tension rods and compression struts were at 300 percent of the existing capacity. The city immediately drained the water from the 300,000 gallon tank and the council called for it’s eventually demise.

That is scheduled for  a coming phase of the $11 million corporation yard overhaul now underway. That won’t happen, though if Cantu and a small but growing number of other individuals and organizations have their way.

Their goal is to save the tower and transform the tank into a giant pumpkin.

“The Pumpkin Fair is a big event for Manteca and Manteca is known for pumpkins,” Cantu, a retired city planner, said. “It would be a good icon for Manteca.”

So far the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the idea while the Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau is considering it. The Manteca Downtown Business Association will be pitched the idea next week. Cantu noted that   Manteca’s Pumpkin King himself - George Perry - has blessed the idea.

Cantu serves as the administrative coordinator for the downtown association.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted the demise of the water tower hasn’t been cast in stone. Plans, though, call for its demolition to make room in the corporation yard to expanding operations.

Houghton said there are three options for the water tower:

• Demolish it and not replace it.

• Replace it with a new water tower.

• Keep it in place as is being proposed but make necessary repairs that would fall way short of it being able to hold water.

“It needs structural maintenance if it is going to be left in place,” Houghton said.

Cantu researched other communities that have turned their towers into icons such as Kingsburg in Tulare County and Lindstrom in Minnesota that have turned their water towers into gigantic teapots. There are also examples of water towers being transformed into fruit including one in Circleville, Ohio that is a pumpkin.

That isn’t a coincidence.

Just as Manteca raises more than 70 percent of all pumpkins grown in California, the Ohio community is at the heart of a major pumpkin growing region. The Circleville Pumpkin Show always starts on the third Wednesday of October and runs for four days. The 2011 event drew more than 400,000 people.

Manteca’s two-day Pumpkin Fair the first weekend in October draws more than 45,000 people.

The city looked into retrofitting the water tower and found out it would cost $2.1 million to meet current state earthquake standards. The city could build almost a pair of million gallon tanks such as the one on Lathrop Road near Union Road and on West Yosemite Avenue in front of the wastewater treatment plant for that price.

The upgrade of the corporation complex on Wetmore calls for it to be torn down when the third phase starts sometime in the next two years.

Mayor Willie Weatherford said he expects the City Council to be open to such a proposal when it is formally made but believes it would be prudent to study the fiscal impacts.

If it looks like money would be needed to make the tower structurally safe even without holding water, the mayor doesn’t believe taxpayers should be on the hook for it.

“I don’t think it is fair that tax dollars are spent on something that can’t be used,” Weatherford said.

 Back in October when the council last discussed the water tower, Councilman John Harris stated, “if it (the water tower) is seismically unsafe, it has got to come down.

Harris at the time agreed with Cantu’s basic assertion the city should work to save and preserve landmark structures before they disappear, but the councilman believes the water tower isn’t a proper candidate given the fact it is unsafe and costly to retrofit. Harris was an advocate a number year’s back to paint the tower orange so it would look like a pumpkin.

Replacement tower for antennas will net city $775,000 & serve as 150-foot flag pole

The city is devising a deal with Metros PCS build a replacement tower that the city would then be able to move antennas on top of the existing water tower to at the corporation yard complex almost directly across Wetmore from the existing water tower.

The 150-foot tower will cost Metro PCS $50,000 to put in place. The city would piggyback on the tower with antennas used for fire dispatch, ham radio disaster assistance, city communications and even one used by the Manteca Unified School District. The deal calls for Metro PCS to be charged $2,000 a month to lease the tower. Each year there would be a 3 percent increase in the lease payment.

Houghton said the tower is being designed as a 150-foot flag pole to allow the city to fly a giant American flag.

Metro PCS would have the lease payment waived for the first two years so they can recoup the cost of installing the tower.

Metros PCS would have a 25-year lease. The city, over the duration, would receive $800,000 versus $25,000 or $1,000 a year in maintenance and upkeep costs. That would mean the general fund would net $775,000 of $33,695 on average annually for the 23 years that payments are made after Metro PCS recoups the cost of installing the tower.