Timber engineers: Potawatomi Tower can be repaired

STURGEON BAY, Wis. Timber experts say the nearly 90-year-old observation tower at Potawatomi State Park can definitely be saved. The structure was built in 1932.

The observation tower at Potawatomi State Park

As Action 2 News reported, parts of the tower were taken in for testing at 'Wood Research and Development' in Oregon back in January.

The DNR closed the tower during winter of 2017 because of significant wood decay, making it no longer safe for the public. The DNR had plans to dismantle the 75-foot-tall tower, but efforts to save the tower put the removal at a halt.

Dan Tingley, a world-renowned timber expert with WRD, was hired by the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society independently to examine the Potawatomi Tower.

"Key finding is that the vast majority of this tower has great wood in it, it’s ready to go another hundred years," said Tingley.

Tingley's findings show 80 to 90-percent of the tower’s wood is in good condition. He says weak areas of the tower can be strengthened using advanced methods in the timber industry.

"Even 20 years ago the tower wouldn't have been nearly as easy to fix as it is today,” Tingley adds. “Advancements of high strength fiber, ways we connect things and things like diffuser rods, which are natural salts that you can put in the wood to prevent decay can be used."

In January lab technicians took three days to gather data and samples from the Potawatomi Tower. Tingley says if they were to take down the tower and dispose of it, it would be the same magnitude as if they were to repair the degraded areas.

Tingley says repairing the Potawatomi Tower would cost anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000.

"The cost of tearing it down is more than the cost of fixing it,” said Tingley. “So if that's the case and it has historical significance for the community, why wouldn't we save it?"

According to the historical society, the DNR is now comparing Tingley's findings with their own study. The historical society says a second phase of Tingley's study will be submitted to the DNR.

"We commissioned a second phase study that would give them more numbers and more specific engineering. When they told us they were having an independent engineer compare the two, we wanted to make sure that they had every ounce of information we could possibly get them," said Christie Weber, Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation President.

Weber says the DNR has promised her they would not dismantle the tower in the meantime.