Water tower remains part of Oshkosh’s skyline

August 4, 2018

OSHKOSH — Sometimes when Plan A doesn’t pan out, Plan B turns out to be the better option after all.

After the Oshkosh City Council voted 3-2 against a proposal a group put forth to save the town’s historic water tower at its June 27 meeting, there was an air of disappointment in the room.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. After going into executive session, the council, with members David Cook, Terry Davis, Sarena Assmann, Gary DeCock and Mayor Jim Levick, voted unanimously to offer the tower and the land around it for sale during a sealed bid process. And Jo Lynn Blackwell, Susan Piva and other members of the Save the Oshkosh Water Tower movement submitted a bid that was accepted during the council’s July meeting.

“The Oshkosh Water Tower will stay in its place, right off of Main Street, for as long as we want it there,” Blackwell said. “Our bid was accepted at the Oshkosh City Council meeting and we are ready to get to work.”

While buying the tower and the land wasn’t the original idea as the initial proposal was to lease it from the city for a 40-year period, Blackwell, a former Oshkosh resident who now splits her time between Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and a house at nearby Lake McConaughy, said she is thrilled for the way everything turned out.

The tower was built in 1920 and served the western Nebraska town until this past winter when a new water delivery system, mandated by federal safety guidelines, went online. The fate of the tower was unknown and many current and former residents spoke out about the tower’s possible destruction.

When deciding to accept bids for the tower’s sale, the council’s requirements were specific: a minimum bid of $3,000 for the tower, the land and improvements, and a detailed plan and source of funding for restoration, maintenance and use of land and improvements for economic development and tourism.

The group’s bid met all of those requirements. And, Blackwell said, now it’s time to get to work. Even though more than $13,000 has been pledged to the project so far, there is lots more to do.

“The next steps for the non-profit organization, which will be known as Oshkosh Water Tower, are to finalize our incorporation, continue and expand our fundraising activities, research the history of the tower for historic designation and prepare for the tower’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2020,” she said. “Thank you all for your support to get us to this point and thank you, in advance, for your continued support that will propel us forward and make this project a success.”

The group would also like to make the tower part of the Nebraska Passport program in 2020 as part of that anniversary celebration.

Other steps include getting the paperwork done and submitted for designation on the National Register for Historic Places, sending out direct mail donation requests, completing grant applications and looking into merchandise to sell at local events.

“We’re looking at merchandise to sell at the annual homecoming celebration this fall,” Blackwell said, “including T-shirts, hats, cups, postcards, etc. We are also going to sell commemorative bricks for the plaza that will be located directly underneath the tower.”

Speaking of the plaza, she said, members of the Oshkosh Garden Club have volunteered to take care of all the garden planting on the grounds and the plaza.

“That’s quite an offer,” she said. “I want to thank Deb Schubert and Myra Ring for attending the council meeting and supporting this project.”

Blackwell doesn’t underplay the importance of community support for this project.

“We couldn’t have done this if it hadn’t been for the support we got from residents of Garden County, alumni from all over the United States, visitors to Oshkosh who had a special memory of our water tower and especially the group of friends I called and asked, ‘Hey, you want to help me save the water tower?’,” she said.

“An additional ‘thank you’ needs to be said to the Oshkosh City Council members, city hall employees and the city attorney for giving us the opportunity to present our proposal to keep the water tower in place and for the solution they came up with which allowed us to purchase it and execute our plan.”

To find out more about the Oshkosh Water Tower project, check out the organization’s page on Facebook.

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