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Iconic Milwaukee Water Tower Keeps the Water Out

The Robert Anderson Municipal Building is a classic landmark on Milwaukee’s south side. The 160-foot-tall structure was constructed in 1938/39 in the Art Deco style through Federal Works Agency/Public Works Administration Initiative. It initially served as a water tower and municipal offices for the old Town of Lake, which was subsequently absorbed into the City of Milwaukee.

It no longer is used as a water tower, but the office portion of the building houses the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services, and the 8-sided concrete tower supports numerous communications antennas.

“It’s a unique building, and as such, the roofing project is very different from those we normally handle,” said Chuck Konzen, F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Company Service Manager.

The old metal water tank is surrounded by the octagonal concrete walls, so the roof is the odd-shaped areas between the tank and the concrete walls. Think of it as a circle drawn within a stop sign, Konzen noted. The areas outside the circle is the roof.

The overall building has been well maintained, but the roof needed waterproofing after two other maintenance projects. Portions of the metal tank were sandblasted and repaired in preparation for roof work. FJAC was then brought in to waterproof the concrete deck and inside the parapet walls, but access and tight conditions on the roof made it an unusual project.

Access to the roof was limited to use of a single swing stage, and the walking area atop the roof was just 20 inches wide. “Two people would go up on the swing stage, but there was only room for one person to be on the roof at a time,” Konzen said.

Weather conditions also presented challenges. Work could only be done when winds were under 17 miles per hour, and when the chance of rain was extremely low since the waterproofing system requires time to dry properly.

Another issue encountered were drains that were too high.

FJAC’s approach involved the use of Kemper System waterproofing materials. The concrete floor and adjacent portions of the metal tank were coated with surface-specific primers, followed by the Kemper System cold-liquid-applied waterproofing membrane, reinforced with fleece cut to fit the unique dimensions of the deck. Traffic coating was then applied

and was used to build up areas around drains to allow for proper water drainage.

All the materials had to be prepared on the swing stage, as the liquids had to be applied within 30 minutes of mixing.

Crews worked on one of the eight bays at a time. Tight areas were encapsulated in metal enclosures created by FJAC’s sheet metal division.

Work on one bay (corner) at a time – eight bays – ended up encapsulating the bays in metal.

The city regularly checked progress on the work, and has been pleased with results thanks to the dedication of our crews led by Service Crew Manager Joe Gosdeck and sheet metal Foreman Jason Thelen, Konzen noted.