More than 1,200 people have signed a petition to have “Damascus” and the high school mascot painted on the town’s water tower.
However, officials with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which owns the tower, say it is unlikely the commission would decide to paint the tower before its regularly scheduled maintenance, which is not expected until at least 2014.
The effort to paint the tower — the third in four years — began after James Hyman, 6, of Damascus asked his father why the tower was not already painted.
His father, Rob Hyman, a teacher at Damascus High School, then began working with Victor Furnells of Damascus to gather signatures.
An online petition — available since April 15 — at www.change.org had 1,231 signatures as of Tuesday.
The goal is to collect 1,500 signatures before contacting the commission. Damascus’ population is about 15,000.
Furnells said the 1,500 signatures would be an indicator that residents are in favor of the tower.
The commission, however, has been reluctant.
“It’s not precedent and it’s not something we’d want to set at this point,” said Kira Lewis, the commission’s spokeswoman. “We are looking into an overarching policy about the tank, but right now it’s not really on the table because we’re not at a point where we’re ready to paint the tank. ... We’re so far from actually painting the tank, it’s almost a moot point because it’s not something we can do on demand.”
Lewis said there is not a precedent for painting high school logos on water tanks.
Two of the commission’s 56 tanks in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are painted.
Both painted tanks are in Prince George’s County: one in Accokeek and the other at Joint Base Andrews, a military base that serves the U.S. Air Force and Navy and is home to Air Force One.
The commission is a water and wastewater utility serving Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. It governs nearly 5,600 miles of pipes, and serves almost 1.8 million customers.
The Accokeek tower that bears the town’s name was painted during installation, a move Lewis said saves significant cost in painting. Lewis said painting only the town’s name on the Damascus tower would cost between $12,000 and $17,000, including the cost of lowering and raising the tower for painting and any equipment involved. She did not have an estimate for the additional cost of painting the mascot.
At Joint Base Andrews, the tank bears the names and symbols of three branches of the armed forces — the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
Lewis said the commission is not expected to address painting the tower until it is due for maintenance. Because there is no precedent for making a similar decision on an already-constructed tower, she said there wasn’t an established process for approving painting. The decision to paint the Accokeek tower was made during construction, she said.
Other efforts to paint the town’s name on the Damascus water tower were unsuccessful. That includes lobbying by the 2009 senior class at Damascus High School, and in 2010 Furnells contacted the commission. This year’s attempt has garnered more support than previous efforts, Furnells said.
“I was amazed at the number of folks who registered,” he said. “We were only looking for about 150 signatures and we got that in about one day.”
Furnells said he and Hyman also are hoping to get the support of local businesses, as there are about 100 within sight of the tower, which is in the center of town off Damascus Boulevard. He said the backing of businesses would help show the town’s support for the tower.
“We’re in the process of recruiting those businesses,” he said. “We haven’t received one negative response yet.”
Hyman, who teaches math at the school, said the community’s response to the tower is indicative of the strong relationship between the school and surrounding community.
“That sort of gives us a unique perspective on how the community and school work together,” he said. “That’s not to say other places in the county don’t have close relationships [but] it’s fun to do something that’s positive and community-oriented. It’s fun to have James involved. He’s learning a lot from this.”
James, who attends football games with his father and mother, loves the school, and echoes similar sentiments to many who have signed the petition for the water tower.
“I want to see a hornet up there!” he said.