New interest in old tank

An old cistern behind the Dorchester Summerville Museum provides a backdrop for the garden house and courtyard that are under renovation.

SUMMERVILLE — Another idea to do something with an old water tank is floating around.

It's less ambitious than a previous proposal to turn the downtown tank into a restaurant, but it still could improve the area, according to Summerville Dorchester Museum Director Chris Ohm.

The concrete reservoir is behind the museum, behind shops and restaurants in the commercial historic district. It's across from Town Hall at Main Street and East Doty Avenue.

It is about 10 feet high and 60 feet across. The brown walls are splotched with black mildew, vines and graffiti. The structure is partially blocked by trash bins and surrounded by parked cars that come in through a narrow alley.

About five years ago, Bill Collins, former publisher of the Summerville Journal Scene, tried to find backers to turn the cistern into a wine and cheese shop with a restaurant on top. He's not entirely given up on the idea.

"I'm sorry I couldn't do it," Collins said this week. "I thought it had great potential. I'd still consider it if I could get some people willing to pony up some money."

Ohm's main concern is the litter and the smell. The eyesore conflicts with his vision for renovating the museum's courtyard. He asked town officials to include the cistern in its lease last week. The museum already leases the building and courtyard from the town.

"We don't want to anger our neighbors, but we're tired of the trash," Ohm said.

Administrator Dennis Pieper said his main concern was whether the town might need to store water in the tank, as was the case after Hurricane Hugo. Summerville Commissioners of Public Works Manager Charlie Cuzzell said the town has expanded the water system and no longer needs the tank. Pieper said the council would have to decide whether to grant the lease request.

The cistern would be a natural addition to the museum, Ohm said. The museum building used to be the town's water department. That's why the old cistern is out back.

"I think it's an interesting historical building, especially for a museum," he said. "It's important for Summerville."

If the town lets the museum lease the cistern, it might be renovated in the future, but nothing specific has been considered, Ohm said. It would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars to hire an engineer to find out if the old cistern could be used for anything other than an exhibit, and a lot of other projects would get money before that, Ohm said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or dmunday@postandcourier.com.