Ordinary Treatment Plant Tank Becomes Focal Point of Community

A student-designed mural in Illinois on Decatur’s above-ground water reservoir becomes a point of visual interest along a busy highway.
Ordinary Treatment Plant Tank Becomes Focal Point of Community
An aerial view of the finished mural, featuring a great blue heron.

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It took nearly 1,000 gallons of light beige paint to spruce up the 7.5-million-gallon reservoir at the South Water Treatment Plant in Decatur, Illinois. But it was the 40 gallons of contrasting admiral blue paint that turned the structure into an attention-getting, aquarium-looking landmark that has become part of the city’s public art program.

A 650-linear-foot mural painted on the tank shows 48 fish, 121 water bubbles and two huge blue herons that complement the aquatic scene designed by an art student at a nearby university. “The tank is on our plant site, which is near a busy highway, so a lot of people get to see it every day,” says Jerry Stevens, P.E., water production operations supervisor.

Major rehabilitation

The city contracted with DN Tanks in 2016 to inspect, clean and coat the tank they built in 1987. Stevens thought that since it is in a high-visibility area and the city’s downtown improvement project includes murals on buildings, the water treatment plant could beautify the tank.

A committee of Stevens, the mayor, a city council member, the city arts council president, the water department manager and the city manager collaborated to hold a contest and produce a mural with a wildlife and water theme including the Sangamon River, the plant’s water source. The winning design was selected from five submitted by the graphic arts department at Millikin University. Those five had been winnowed down from 15 original submissions. The winning student, senior Sarah Suits, received a $500 stipend.

After the tank inspection, a 3,500 psi power washer prepared the surface for spray application of a special concrete paint. The contrasting blue wildlife images were laser-light projected onto the tank from the ground and then outlined by a painter in a truck-mounted bucket who filled in the images with roller and brush. A protective final clear coat formulated to retard dirt and ease washing completed the project, which took nearly seven months.

Fitting right in

“I’ve heard a lot of people say they like the outcome, and I have not heard anything negative, so I guess it was a success,” Stevens says. “We think it’s pretty neat.” The mural theme is fitting for the 36 mgd water plant site and is consistent with other murals in Decatur.

A mural on one downtown building shows George Halas, the coach of the Decatur Staleys semipro football team that became the Chicago Bears. The Staleys were formed by A.E. Staley, founder of a corn processing firm that bore his name and is now known as Tate & Lyle.

A 5-million-gallon reservoir near the Tate & Lyle plant site on Decatur’s east side was also inspected and coated by DN Tanks, but without a mural. It serves another large water customer, corn processor Archer Daniels Mildland. Together, the two companies use more than 60 percent of water production; that stabilizes pumping requirements and eliminates the effects of the summer production swings many water utilities experience.

“You often see murals on elevated water towers, but on a ground storage reservoir, it’s kind of unique,” Stevens says. “It was fun to do, especially since we could include other members of the city and community.”



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