NORTH BATTLEFORD - It is a symbol of North Battleford: the iconic water tower and its lights.
Now, it looks as if the lights that have illuminated the night sky for the past several decades could go dark.
At the city’s Planning Committee meeting Monday to discuss the 2022 budget, City Manager Randy Patrick explained the lights on the tower are near the end.
“They have absolutely reached the end of life,” said Patrick.
“This is the year that we turn them off — sometime this year, we suspect. We can’t keep fixing them, the sun has destroyed the cables that are connecting them. The lights themselves have a 10-year life, and they’re over 10 years.”
The cost of replacing the bulbs is prohibitive. Patrick told council it had cost more than $70,000 to buy the bulbs last time, and they expect it to cost to now be $200,000.
As it stands, the project is unfunded in the 2022 budget. “We do not have this project funded,” Patrick confirmed.
Other funding would need to be found to replace those lights, said Patrick.
This would be the second time the tower lights have gone dark. The lights were initially installed as a 75th anniversary project in 1988.
Those proved to be so popular that they stayed up. After a winter windstorm in 2007, the tower went dark for a period of time before being illuminated again by new LED on Nov. 20, 2009, the result of a major community fundraising effort, led by Yvonne Nyholt and Reine Lessard.
A question raised by council was whether there could be a similar community effort this time.
Councillor Kent Lindgren asked if the city had reached out to any groups. Director of City Operations Stewart Schafer said they had not yet contacted any groups.
There were funds set aside by the city for minor repairs, but “this has gone beyond minor repairs, this is major replacement.”
Beyond the issue of the lights is the question of the lifespan of the North Battleford water tower itself. Patrick reported it is expected to be a major conversation piece about six or seven years in the future.
What the city is looking at is a potential $8- to $10-million project where the water tower could potentially be replaced by a reservoir. The indication from Patrick is the city is looking to set up reserves to potentially fund that major project.
The hope was expressed by Councillor Greg Lightfoot that the tower itself could still stand at that location afterwards.
Indeed, the indication was that tower could still be used for other purposes. Schafer reported the tower is valuable as an antenna location and is currently used by the RCMP as well as health and safety (ambulances, EMS) for communications.
“Even if the water tower is not used as a water storage device, it is still used very heavily as an antenna for collection and transmission of data,” said Schafer.
Patrick noted a number of water towers had been re-purposed and kept as landmarks beyond their lifespan.
Based on the conversations at budget deliberations Monday, there was little enthusiasm from anyone about the idea of removing the water tower structure at any point in the future.
“The water tower is an icon in the city of North Battleford,” said Schafer. “It is a proud item of the city.”