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Sea Isle City's water tower is ringed by a sprawling, metal scaffold in preparation for its repainting and rehabilitation.

By Donald Wittkowski

Sea Isle City’s nearly 135-foot-high water tower appears as though it’s trapped in a gigantic spider web.

Wrapped around the landmark structure at 39th Street and Central Avenue is a massive complex of metal scaffolding that will allow the tower to receive a new paint job and rehabilitation work costing $667,500.

The tower greets visitors entering town on the John F. Kennedy Boulevard gateway with the uplifting expression, “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City.” Those words will remain on the tower as part of the painting project.

The sprawling scaffold is the most dramatic facet of the work. Next, the scaffold will be draped with a huge tarp to allow the tower to be power-washed and repainted.

“From start to finish, the work will take about a month,” said Keith Wagner, a union carpenter on the project who works for Complete Scaffold Inc. of Willow Grove, Pa.

City spokeswoman Katherine Custer explained that the project calls for renovation work to both the exterior and interior of the tower, including the need for extensive scaffolding.

In 2002, the last time the water tower was painted, the city changed the slogan on it from “Welcome to Sea Isle City” to the more whimsical “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City.” City officials have stressed there are no plans to change the “Smile” message this time around.

The tower soars above the surrounding buildings on Central Avenue, including Sea Isle’s Public Works Department office.

The tower was built in the 1970s and undergoes periodic maintenance. A look at the tower’s understructure reveals rust streaks and giant scuff marks in the light blue paint, highlighting the need for a repainting.

Allied Painting of Cherry Hill has been hired by the city to do the painting work. Other companies are assisting Allied with different parts of the project, including Complete Scaffold’s work.

“It’s putting all the pieces properly together,” Wagner explained of the intricate scaffold. “It’s like a kid with an Erector Set. It’s more like an Erector Set than Legos.”

Although it was previously thought that the water tower is 100 feet tall, the height is actually 134 feet, Wagner said. When the scaffold is completed this week, it will be the same height as the tower, he added.

Like the tower itself, the ring of scaffolding soars above the city’s skyline. Wagner and fellow carpenters Frank Schuck and Bryan Haggerty have the daunting job of erecting the scaffold.

In an interview Tuesday, all three of them spoke glowingly of the spectacular views of the coastline that unfold from the top of the tower.

“It’s beautiful. You can see the ocean and the bays,” Wagner said. “You can see Atlantic City from here. You can see stuff in Wildwood. You would be able to see the Ferris wheel in Ocean City if it wasn’t hidden by other things.”

From left, Keith Wagner, Frank Schuck and Bryan Haggerty, of Complete Scaffold Inc., of Willow Grove, Pa., are putting up the massive scaffolding.

Wagner, Schuck and Haggerty said the sunrises and ocean are particularly stunning when seen from so high above the ground.

“It’s kind of tranquil,” Schuck said. “It’s just so calming by looking out over the ocean.”

Workers are outfitted with an array of safety equipment to protect them from falls. Chris Leclercq, who works for Paragon, a Horsham, Pa., company that is removing communications equipment from the water tower for the painting project, said he is tragically aware of the dangers of working so high up.

Leclercq said his father, Jerry Leclercq, was killed in a fall from a communications tower in Vineland 10 years ago.

“It’s a pretty dangerous job,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s awesome. It’s peaceful. You do a lot of thinking when you’re up there.”

Water tower worker Chris Leclercq peers up as communications equipment is removed from the structure.