Monday, June 3, 2019

The Water Tower on Campus


If you ever walked through the western end of campus, you may have noticed an enormous water tower that rises above the dormitories, commercial businesses, and shade trees.  Located near the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, the tower is situated on Oakland Ave between Josephine Boyd and Kenilworth streets.  The tall structure is adorned with the school’s logo and its sports mascot.  The images are painted in the school’s colors of blue and gold.  Serving as an important visual landmark for the school, you might be surprised to learn that the water tower is not actually owned and maintained by the university.  How did this structure become woven into the visual landscape and collective memory of the school?

The water tower is owned and operated by the city of Greensboro.  It is part of a city network of eleven water towers that provide water to residents, businesses, and the municipal fire protection program.  The tower serves the area of southwest Greensboro that includes the university and the Coliseum.  Since 1927, there has been a city-owned water tower located on Oakland Avenue.

In 1927 the city of Greensboro was rapidly growing and seeking to expand its water services.  The city had already built two large water towers.  The first water tower was constructed at Bellemeade and Greene streets in the late 19th century.  The second tower was built at Church Street and Wendover Avenue in the early 20th century.  The 150-foot water tower on Oakland Avenue represented the third structure built by the city.  The water tank was designed to hold 500,000 gallons of water.  The 1927 structure had a simple functional design.  It was a design that was used by many towns and cities throughout the United States.  The water tank was placed at the top of the structure and held up by a series of metal girders.  The girders themselves were held in place by a series of metal support “rings.”  At the very top of the tank was capped by a cone-shaped cover that many folks described as looking like a man’s hat or cap.  This water tower met the needs of the surrounding Greensboro community for decades.

1927 Water Tower with the UNCG Logo

When did the water tower become a visual landmark for the school?  It appears that a conversation was held between the university and the city about painting the school’s name on the tower in 1988.  After a series of conversations, the city of Greensboro in 1990 granted permission to the school to paint “UNCG” on the tower.  UNCG was painted in blue with gold bars above and below it.  The painting project was completed in March 1990 and the new tower’s lettering could be seen nearly a mile away.  By painting the school’s name to the tower, the actual structure acquired a new purpose that of a visual marker for the university.

By 2000, the 63-year-old structure was the oldest water tower in the Greensboro water system.  In 2003, the city of Greensboro allocated monies to demolish the old tower and replace it with a much larger 1 million-gallon water tower.  Starting in May 2003, a large construction crane was brought in to slowly dismantle the tower.  The cap that was affixed to the top of the water tank was the first item to be removed.  Over the next two weeks, the metal structure was taken apart and removed from the site.  While the school logo had only been on the old tower structure for thirteen years, it seems that the UNCG logo was firmly fixed in the minds of faculty, students, and Greensboro residents.  Indeed, Carol McDowell (a city water engineer) was asked how people would find the UNCG campus once the tower was removed.  Recognizing that a new replacement water tower would soon be built, McDowell replied that “I tell them they’ll be able to find it again in about a year.”

In July 2004, the preparations for the installation of a 91.5 ton water tower tank were being completed.  The huge tank was slowly lifted up by a system of cables so that it would ultimately rest on the top of a solid tower.  The $1.6 million water tower project was designed to meet the current and future needs of the university and the surrounding communities. 

Would the new tower be employed by the university as a visual landmark?  Recognizing how the water tower was adopted by the UNCG community, the university has always planned to employ the school’s logo on the new tower structure.  As the new water tank was being assembled on site, a painting crew from Landmark Structures was employed to paint the school’s athletic logo of a giant Spartan warrior and the letters “UNCG” on two sides of the structure.  The letters and the logo were painted in the school’s colors of blue and gold.  The project required 70-man hours, 10 gallons of paint, and 2,340 feet of painter’s tape.  In 2016, the UNCG design and image were repainted.  Today, the tower and the UNCG design logo and mascot continue to welcome and orient visitors to campus.

2004 Water Tower


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