New coating to be applied this fall at no cost to city

(May 3, 2019) The bad news is, the three-year old, million-gallon “beach ball” water tower on First Street and St. Louis Avenue needs a new paint job.

The good news? The city doesn’t have to pay for it.

Finished in late 2016, the $5 million water tower replaced a pair of 50-year-old towers on Worcester Avenue and 15th Street that held a combined 900,000 gallons.

What’s more, the new tower, put up by Chicago Bridge and Iron Constructors, came with a Sherwin-Williams paint job to mimic an enormous beach ball hovering brightly over the main entranceway to the resort. Reportedly, the design cost $10,000 more than the standard blue paint job.

Tank painting was finished in September 2016 and included an initial coat of Sherwin-Williams Macropoxy 646, or a coat of white paint that covered the whole tank. Specifications for the paint said the recoat time was up to one year.

About 50 days later, the tank next received two coats of Sherwin-Williams Flurokem, which are the color coats. Chicago Bridge and Iron first painted the tank from the second set of handrails down, and later painted the roof section from the hand rails up to the top of the tank, figuring they had one year of recoat time on the base coat epoxy.

Beach ball tower

A water tower in Ocean City painted to resemble an enormous beach ball needs a new paint job because of an apparent adhesion defect. Work cannot start until the fall, but the town will not have to foot the bill. 

However, when Verizon cellular contractors climbed the tank in January 2017, they noticed and then informed resort officials that the roof paint had blisters on the surface and was coming off.

Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins said there was an adhesion issue between the top color coat and the primer, and that was caused by incorrect paint specifications that Sherwin-Williams provided to Chicago Bridge and Iron. He said the problem has apparently come up in several of projects, nationally.

“They’re had similar problems at other tanks, so they’ve done further technical studies [and] technical visitations to determine what has happened, and they’re coming up with a resolution,” Adkins said.

To fix the problem, he said the tank would first have to be powerwashed, which will also remove the beach ball design.

“The majority of all the color-coated bands of the tank – the yellows, the oranges – it’s all going to come off,” Adkins said. “It’s going to slough off and then they’re going to repaint it.

“It’s a shame it happened and it’s going to be a little bit of a mess while they do it, but on the positive side, we get a band-new paint job,” he continued. “And I feel somewhat comfortable knowing that it was not isolated to just the Town of Ocean City’s tank, and that Sherwin-Williams has gone on record identifying that they’ve had similar problems elsewhere. All I hope is that they come up with the appropriate fix.”

Adkins said the unfortunate thing is, for now, the tank “will have to look like it looks now.” He added Sherwin-Williams has revised its paint specifications to say recoats must be done within 45 days.

“Is there a problem? Yes. Is the color-coded paint delaminating from the primer coat? Yes. Has Sherwin-Williams, the paint supplier, admitted that they have a problem and will, in fact, be covering 100 percent of the cost? Yes. The town doesn’t have to pay a penny.

“Unfortunately, the tank has to be drained because of temperature issues on the steel and condensation. We can’t drain it at this time, [because] we’re heading into the summer season. So, we anticipate the work will commence after Sunfest.”

Adkins estimated the work would occur in October and November.

He said draining the tank was fairly routine and unlikely to cause a major disturbance to the downtown, adding, “and, normally, we’ll try to make beneficial use of that water.”

“But we cannot and refuse to drain that tank while we head into the summer season,” Adkins said. “There’s no way I’m draining that tank now.

“It’s the gateway to Ocean City and you’ve probably got little kids and grandkids that will say, ‘Look, look, look, it’s the beach ball!’ And on a scale of one to 10, it’s not a ten right now – maybe it’s a seven. But worse things have happened,” he added.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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