During the past two months, commuters on U.S. 63 couldn’t help but notice a change in the landscape just south of Columbia. What started as four columns of gray steel stretching skyward near the junction of Highway 163 has taken shape.
The new water tower, which will stand 192 feet tall with a capacity of 1 million gallons, is a symbol of more than just engineering bravado. It represents the changes to come in the largely undeveloped area not far from the city’s southern borders.
The tower is being built by a team of eight men from Phoenix Fabricators & Erectors, a firm based in Avon, Ind., that specializes in water tower construction.
Standing on a ledge approximately 170 feet in the air earlier this week, Greg Burgess pointed toward a flock of wild turkeys in a field below. From these heights, one gets a good sense of the area that’s locally known as Deer Park.
Patches of fields separated by clusters of trees stretch out in every direction. Almost directly below the tower, however, is a sprinkling of human touches: a watersports retailer, a building supply store and, just down the highway, the Deer Park convenience store.
“Columbia is growing,” Burgess said as he looked north toward the southern limits of Columbia, still beyond the range of sight.
The tower is part of a larger effort on the part of the Consolidated Public Water Supply District No. 1 to meet increased demand in coming years. The water district is the largest in Boone County, reaching northwest to Harrisburg, west of Columbia and into parts of southern Boone County.
David Lee, of the water district, said the purpose of the new tower is “to help support future growth along the 63 corridor.” The extra water capacity and pressure provided by the new tower will benefit the district by supplying additional customers and allowing an older and smaller tower west of Ashland to be closed for repairs.
Lee said the Deer Park tower will be put into service immediately upon completion, which, according to the construction crew, should be within a month. The district is working on plans for a water line extension to the tower and will bid out that job soon.
Although the district is expanding its infrastructure to prepare for future demand, when, and if, development will occur around the new tower is uncertain.
Columbia Insurance Group owns 66 acres on the other side of U.S. 63. The company bought the land eight years ago with the intention of building a state headquarters, but is still holding the property as an investment.
“Right now, plans are on hold,” said Jim Cunningham, secretary and general counsel for the company. He said the area is lacking certain amenities that would make moving out there more palatable, such as restaurants where employees could eat lunch.
The 489-acre Philips tract is farther north on U.S. 63. In April, developer Elvin Sapp gained zoning and annexation approval from Columbia City Council, and some believe that, once development begins there, additional development on land directly to the south will follow.
“Anytime you have a development like that it just opens the way for more,” said Pat Smith, chairwoman of the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission. “Development is going to follow the corridor, that’s just the way the world works.”
Smith said that planning and zoning is limited to reacting to development proposals, whereas the water district can plan ahead. “They hold the cards for development,” Smith said. “They choose where they want to grow.”
The tower near U.S. 63 is the latest in a series of four that are being built in the district. The other three, which are in various stages of completion, are replacing existing towers. The towers, which cost a total of $3.2 million, are being paid for with funds from a $20 million bond issue approved by voters in November 2001.
So far, the district has sold $9 million worth of the bonds, mostly for the towers and water main extensions and some for maintenance work. Plans are in place for projects that should span the next four to five years, Lee said.
With the new water tower getting ready for service and good roads already in place, the area is primed for growth, Smith said. Land in the Deer Park area is priced for development, Smith said, and she suspects it’s just a matter of “waiting for the right person with the right amount of money.”