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Grand Forks City Council votes to demolish landmark smiling water tower

Jim Grijalva, a UND law professor, rappels down the Grand Forks smiling water tower after placing a peregrine falcon nesting box on the catwalk of the tower in this file photo. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The well-known "Smiley" water tower here has only months left before the winking landmark will be demolished and removed from his post near DeMers Avenue and Washington Street.

Monday, City Council members here unanimously approved awarding a contract to LeadCon to take down the 77-year-old water tower that acquired its trademark smiley faces in the 1970s during an economic recession. Demolition will cost $62,642.

Another part of the contract will lead to the birth of "Smiley Jr." after the water tower near Purpur Arena gets two smiley faces, one with a wink, as a nod to Smiley. That paint job and refinishing of the tower's surface will cost about $13,000.

Work on both projects is expected to begin this fall, and Smiley could be a distant memory as early as September. "Smiley Jr." likely will be painted about the same time as his father's demise.

The vote didn't raise any discussion this time around, but talks about Smiley's future have prompted numerous appeals from residents and spirited council debates in the past. Council members unanimously voted Feb. 17 to get bids for the demolition that was estimated to cost $99,000, compared with the estimated $396,000 it would take to extend the tower's life by 15 to 20 years.

City Council President Hal Gershman said he was trying to alleviate some residents' hurt feelings about losing Smiley when he suggested painting the Purpur tower. But one person said in an e-mail before the meeting "that's like trying to replace your grandfather with another grandfather."

Another part of Monday's approved contract is repair and coating replacement on the North End water tower. City staff earlier had estimated the cost at $514,000, but LeadCon's bid was $403,000.

LeadCon's total bid for the work on all three towers was $478,642. The city also will spend $86,000 for construction and post-construction services from KLM Engineering, including full-time on-site construction observation and a float-down inspection of the North End tower near the end of the two-year warranty period after repair work is completed.