Freeport's famous smiley face water tower could be under threat

The iconic structure is rusting in several spots.
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The smiley face that greets travelers along Interstate 94 as they near Freeport in central Minnesota could be under threat.

The water tower on which it's painted has been struck with rust, and the options being considered by Freeport City Council include an outlay of $150,000 to repair it, or a much smaller $25,000 to demolish it.

At meetings in December and January, the city council learned that rust could be putting the integrity of the structure, which no longer holds water, at risk. There is also believed to be toxic metals in the paint – namely lead and chromium – that need addressing.

The city is awaiting the results of a $2,500 study to check the rust and heavy metal content of the tower, and depending on the results the council faces some major decisions.

Among the possibilities considered was a power wash and spot repair of the tower, which would cost $45,000, albeit would likely only buy the tower another 15 years of time.

A comprehensive fix is preferred by council members, which would include a sand blasting and a repaint, but after initially projecting such work would cost $75,000, the estimate came back at a much higher $150,000.

With that figure more than expected, the council's clerk-treasurer Joan Wall floated the possibility of taking the tower down, putting in a memo to the council that "I hate to write this, but it is an option."

The cost of removing the tower and disposing of it is set at $25,000.

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Given the tower's history and popularity, the council is looking into the possibility of a fundraising drive to save it.

The Star Tribune, which reported on the tower's future in Monday's newspaper, notes that the structure has stood for almost a century, though the smiley face wasn't added till the '70s, when it was painted overnight by an unknown resident.

Freeport Mayor Mike Eveslage told the newspaper that he believes the residents of the small Stearns County town will rally to save the tower if that's what it comes to.

The city, which is also home to another famous Minnesota landmark, Charlie's Cafe, has previously been cited by Garrison Keillor as the inspiration for Lake Wobegon in A Prairie Home Companion.

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