Citing concerns over its structural integrity, the St. Clair Shores City Council recently voted 5-2 to demolish the water tower that has stood since the 1920s.

Citing concerns over its structural integrity, the St. Clair Shores City Council recently voted 5-2 to demolish the water tower that has stood since the 1920s.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

St. Clair Shores council votes to demolish water tower

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 3, 2023

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ST. CLAIR SHORES — After a heated discussion, council members voted 5-2 on Feb. 21 to demolish the water tower that sits on the grounds of the St Clair Shores Golf Club.

Councilmen Dave Rubello and Chris Vitale were the opposing votes.

Denise Pike, Community Development and Inspections Department director, said during the meeting they went out to bid for both demolition and rehabilitation. The city received four bids for demolition and no bids for rehabilitation. The lowest bidder was Vin-Con Demolition, which suggested a controlled fall method. Their cost was $53,809 with a 10% contingency fee, putting the total at $59,189.

“What that means is that the company would bring a crane to the site. They would come in off of Masonic,” Pike said. “They would have the crane act as a counterweight, cut the structure of the water tower and basically lower the tower down to the golf course property.”

Pike said this would be a complete removal of the tower.

“The project involves a complete removal of the water tower footings and accessory piping to a depth of 24 inches below grade and a complete restoration of the site,” Pike said.

Two reports about the tower’s condition were provided for council members: one from the late 1990s and a report compiled in 2021 by Hennessy Engineers Inc. for a combined total of around 30 pages.

“In 1998, the city received a engineering review from the then city engineer, NTH consultants, which noted that there was corrosion from moderate to severe in the anchor bolts in the structure that holds the tower,” Pike said. “In 2018, HRC (Engineering) also noted that the structure was in poor condition. In 2021, Hennessey Engineers noted that the exposed concrete footing piers that are above grade have severely deteriorated over time and that there is significant corrosion on the anchor bolts of the water tower.”

The late 1990s report was sent to the City Council at around 5:15 p.m. on the day of the meeting. This angered Rubello.

“So, I ask you if this was such a danger, 25 years later, why is it sitting here in front of seven people having us just take a vote, could be 4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 6-1, don’t know,” Rubello said. “And if that was so important, that city manager right there should have just let us know and said this is a danger, not let it sit for 25 years like that, OK?”

Pike clarified that she received the report the same day herself.

“So, the NTH consultant report was provided to me this afternoon. I believe it was found today by (the) recreation (department),” Pike said. “I do understand your concerns and your frustration.”

St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby said the late 1990s report was done because the water tower was painted during that time and the engineering firm was contacted to evaluate the tower. He also pointed out that, no matter when it was sent out, all three reports corroborated the same thing: the water tower has structural issues.

“It’s not the only engineering report, there are two other ones that are very recent that say the similar issues … there’s a problem with the structure and the tower,” Walby said.

Rubello later said he never wanted to call Pike’s integrity into question during the meeting.

“She’s a good, hardworking lady, a good hardworking person,” Rubello said. “We’re all in it together, (and) we got to move ahead.”

Walby later said there were no festering emotions from the meeting and moving on is something the City Council is good at.

“We all wanted to see to be able to keep that water tower,” Walby said. “I think, at this point, maintaining is a safety issue, so it has to come down.”

Rubello also said that there are birds of prey nesting in the water tower.

“You see on the left side, you know what that is — that’s a hawk’s nest or a peregrine falcon nest. One of the two. Eagles have used it,” Rubello said during the meeting. “So, the little project here isn’t going to be so easy.” 

Later in the week, Rubello clarified that the bird was a great horned owl. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, these birds are federally protected.

Pike said the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources was notified and that the city was referred to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Another concern brought up by Rubello was the paint used on the water tower. It is said to contain lead. He expressed concern about how to properly handle the lead materials to reduce the amount seeping into the ground. Rubello brought up the proximity of Masonic Heights Elementary School and children across the street.

St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby said there was no concern about lead seeping into the water system at the school.

Councilman John Caron is an engineer. He said it’s only a matter of time with situations such as the water tower and that’s why the decision needs to be made now.

“When you have a large metal structure, heavy in weight, a crack forms and it’s under load. It fails fast, and with what that base of the tower is, it is a matter of time,” Caron said. “Maybe it isn’t for another ten years, maybe not for another 20 years. It is a matter of time.”

Another major point brought up by council members is that the City Council has sued residents for allowing their properties to fall out of compliance with city standards. Caron said they cannot let the tower stand any longer.

“We do that to residents, we do that to property owners, we’re not doing that to ourself,” Caron said. “We have a standard in our city. Unfortunately, that does not meet the standard.”