An innovative fence design provides security while maintaining the architectural integrity of a historic water treatment plant building in Saginaw, Michigan.


The goal in building a fence around the City of Saginaw Water Treatment Plant was not only to improve security, but also to preserve the iconic building’s architectural beauty.

“I believe we were not only successful, but actually improved the look of the facility with the fence,” says Paul Reinsch, superintendent of water treatment and field operations for Saginaw, located in east-central Michigan.

Phased construction

The 52 mgd plant stands in a historic district called The Grove that is near the heavily used Frank N. Andersen Celebration Park. Both destinations provide an open view to the Gothic-style building, which was constructed in 1929 and is a source of community pride. The solution was to install a classic knee-wall design, picket-style fence with decorative columns and top caps. The brick knee-wall and columns are accented with a precast concrete coping feature that matches the building’s design. The steel picket fence portion is painted black.

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The fence was built in phases. The knee-wall portion, which protects the massive front of the building, was completed in 2009 with funding through a Department of Homeland Security grant. A grant and part of a previously approved bond issue funded the second phase. Completed two years later, the fence encloses nearly the entire 21-acre plant property.

Tetra Tech did the engineering and architectural design. J.R. Heineman & Sons was the first-phase general contractor, and the masonry was done by McMath Masonry. The second-phase general contractor was J. R. Electric, and Pumford Construction did the masonry. Future Fence Co. installed the metal fence.

“The initial fencing project was done by our water treatment plant staff,” says Reinsch. “It was a chain-link fence installed to secure our chemical delivery area in the back of the plant. The area has limited visibility and really did not affect the overall appearance of the plant.”

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Attractive inside

The city is proud of its historic buildings. Because federal funds were used for the fencing, the Michigan State Historical Preservation Office had to review the project. An architectural dig confirmed that Native American mounds at the site were nonburial locations and contained no artifacts.

Attractiveness is not limited to the exterior of the treatment plant. Inside, modern equipment and plant operators function amid high ceilings, balconies, pointed arches and the openness of long corridors with pillars. Several oil and acrylic paintings by noted artists dominate high arches of the foyer in the plant’s central tower of the plant.

A painting entitled “The Treaty” was donated by artist William John Von Schipmann to commemorate the 157th anniversary of the signing of a treaty with Native American tribes in 1819 at Saginaw. Von Schipmann also donated “The Lodge,” representing the poem “Evangeline” in which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the Saginaw River. Another painting titled “The Approach of Winter” is the work of Saginaw artist Harker W. Jackson, who was inspired by watching construction of the plant in the late 1920s.

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Holiday feature

Although there are many notable buildings and architectural landmarks in Saginaw, Reinsch has heard people refer to the water plant as “the jewel of the city.” That civic pride is on display each winter when the plant and its landscape trees are decorated with wreaths and colored lights. A traditional public lighting ceremony in late November marks the start of the Christmas season.

Reinsch says the main driver of the fence project was a vulnerability assessment done in compliance with the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. Many citizens were concerned that a fence would obstruct and destroy the plant’s beauty, but in fact it is functional and beautiful. “I am pleased that the fence was done so as not to detract from the appearance of the plant,” says Reinsch. “The fencing looks like it is original to the facility.”


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