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Second Friday of the month (third Friday in five-week months) at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pm. Why's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about.

Why's That: What Is That Strange Thing By US-131?

looking up a concrete stem at a large, wide, pale-blue metal circular object
Sehvilla Mann

In the spring, two large objects began to take shape by southbound US-131 between I-94 and Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo: a concrete tube and a sort of dish next to it.

“People were all, ‘maybe it’s a pool or something,’ said Jan Hansen of Portage, who grew curious after passing the thing on the highway.

The dish doesn’t look so look much like a pool anymore. Now it’s more of a wide funnel and it’s sitting on top of the concrete column. It’s pale blue and it says Kalamazoo Promise, with an image of a sun rising over a field.

“That made the mystery deeper,” said Julie Kelemen, who, like Jan, noticed the thing she was driving and she reached out to “Why’s That?”

Kelemen got that it was referencing the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, but she wasn’t sure what the Promise had to do with the structure.

“I’m like, ‘OK, are they keeping the money in there?’”

During construction, the site captured the public imagination. People said it looked like a UFO launch pad. Or a nuclear reactor. So here’s the reveal from Steve Skalski, Assistant City Engineer with the water resources division at the City of Kalamazoo. Water Resources division.

“It’s a water tower,” he said.

Perhaps Jan Hansen got closest when she said it looked like a swimming pool. To the city it’s known as Siesta Tank, after the nearest street.

If Siesta Tank were for swimming, it would have quite the deep end. The tank will hold almost as much water as four Olympic swimming pools.

Skalski said like the city’s other water tanks, it helps maintain steady pressure in the system and it’ll beef up the water reserves in this part of town.

“It is tied for the largest size in our system,” he said.

Skalski explained that the city built the tank on the ground. That’s one reason it didn’t look like a water tower. The city has some wells on this land and Skalski’s talking over one.

“The reason why they built the bowl on the ground was for safety’s sake. They used to build it, assemble it all up top in the air but building it down on the ground, it’s able to be closer to the ground so it’s less dangerous for the construction workers doing the work.”

Even now that the tank is atop the concrete stem, Siesta Tank do

a picture showing the logo of the Promise on the tank. It's dark green with light and orange highlights
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
The tank bears the logo of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship

esn’t look like a water tower, if what you’re picturing is the iconic all-metal tank with the long, spindly legs. Skalski says those have gone out of fashion.

“They tend not to make them like that anymore, it’s a lot more maintenance, you have a lot more metal involved. The nice thing about a composite tank like this is you don’t have to do anything to the stem of the tank, it’s all concrete it’s going to stay like that forever,” he said.

With a concrete stem, you don’t have to paint the legs, just the bowl.

Skalski says this is the first City of Kalamazoo water tank to bear a logo.

Then-mayor Bobby Hopewell thought it would be a “good advertisement for the Kalamazoo Promise, great partnership to put that logo on there.”

He added that the tower’s almost done except for a few final touches.

A series of big off-white tubes snake along the bottom of the stem
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
The city was blowing hot air into the stem to dry the paint on the inside of the tank.

When we step inside the concrete stem on a day in early December, it’s warm. The city’s running blowers to dry the paint. Skalski looks up at the arched concrete ceiling, divided into wedges like a pie.

“The water itself will be above this roof. You can see these pie-shaped panels there, the water will be above that,” he said.

When we visited, the city was still painting the inside of the tank. Skalski says it’ll take about a day to fill it.

a concrete ceiling with a staircase winding up from below and attaching to a pipe in the middle
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
The ceiling under the tank

Jan Hansen and Julie Kelemen each noticed the tower and wondered about it. Now they’re ready to give tours.

“You can just let people know that we’re in the know,” Jan said.

“We have our deputy hydraulic engineer stars,” Julie added.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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