An elevated water tower located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a significant landmark for the city. It can be seen not only from most of downtown, but also from the airport as well — including all air traffic entering or leaving. Standing nearly 160 feet (47 m) tall, with the capacity to hold 1 million gallons (3.8 million L), it welcomes city residents and visitors alike with an 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, with the city planning 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 ultimately proved to be quite successful. So much so, in fact, that the Fort Lauderdale water tower project won first place in the 2019 Sherwin-Williams Impact Awards Program. The program honors noteworthy projects featuring coating and lining materials from Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine.
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 Atlanta, Ga.-based SUEZ Advanced Solutions began the tower's restoration by cleaning, sandblasting, and coating the entirety of the tank’s interior. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, work boots, and fall and respiratory protection, applicators abrasive-blasted all interior surfaces to the NACE No.2/Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) Surface Preparation (SP) 10, “Near-White Metal Blast Cleaning” standard.
Next, the crew from the professional service and contracting firm applied two coats of the Sherwin-Williams Macropoxy 646 PW epoxy — with a stripe coat sprayed in between to all sharp edges, corners, and welds — to ensure a high-film build on all difficult-to-coat areas.
In September 2018, SUEZ commenced abrasive-blasting and coating applications on the tank’s exterior. The crew again blasted all steel surfaces to the same standard, starting with the legs and underside of the tank before moving to the top. After blasting, the crew applied a coat of the Corothane I Galvapac 1K zine primer at 3 mils (76.2 microns) of dry film thickness (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 the Acrolon 218 HS acrylic polyurethane at 3 mils (76.2 microns) DFT. The coating was chosen because it delivers excellent color and gloss retention for exterior exposures, aimed at helping the refurbished tower maintain aesthetics over the long term.
Jim Kelly, owner of Industrial and Commercial Signs, tarted 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 Fluorokem HS 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 with color and gloss performance, considering the severe exposure to heat, sun, and salt air found along the southeast Florida coast.
Following topcoating, inspections performed by OmniTech, 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 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.
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 [45.7 m] in the air — and the project was challenging for applicators to say the least,” said Murray Heywood, the North America market manager — water and wastewater at Sherwin-Williams.
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. “The surface has more surface area than it appears,” said 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 of the steel support structures and other areas prolonged restoration work and coatings applications.
“SUEZ was able to complete about 95 percent of the interior lining application within about one month,” Heywood said. “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.
“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,” said Heywood. “The efforts of the entire team ensured a successful rehabilitation that will maintain potable water service and superior aesthetics over the long term.”
Republished with permission from Materials Performance (MP) Magazine