Man, i'm sweating just reading through this thread. I hope to god after all your hard graft that this set up turns out as per your thread title, "low easy maintainance". You deserve it easy after flogging your guts out on it.
Medium density overlay (MDO) plywood works well for that as well. I use that between my steele stand, foam, tank. I just painted in my case for looks and added water protection.I have started cutting the veneer to wrap the stand with. The veneer is mitered at 45 degrees on one side where it meets other veneer pieces at the corner. There is no way the two veneer pieces will meet perfectly so they will be capped with 1/4" solid maple trim lapped for a pleasing appearance.
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My next step will be to cut the sheet of plywood that goes between the top of the stand and the bottom of the tank. I will then need to cut holes in this sheet for the bulkheads. The problem is this sheet of baltic birch is behind 500lbs of acrylic sheets in my shop. I might just go to the lumber yard and have a new sheet cut a bit over sized for me (25" wide for the 24" wide stand). I will install this shee over lapping the edges of the 24" wide stand then trim it to fit with a router flush trim bit. Next will be sealing the top of the stand, I will probably use water based polyurethane. Then I can start gluing the maple laminate to the outside of the stand.