November 14, 2008

Background on the Laurel Clark Fountain controversy

For anyone trying to dig into the Laurel Clark Fountain controversy, here are some resources to look at:

Snow's Memo

Here's the memo Donnie Snow wrote to Mayor Becker and City Administrator Ben Hughes on July 3. It lays out the case for shutting down the fountain.

State Standard

Here is the state standard that regulates use of the fountain, known as an "interactive play attraction" to the state. According to the standard, the Laurel Clark Fountain would require an attendant (not a lifeguard) to be on the premises and provide period supervision.

It's hard to say what the "premises" would be for the fountain, but it's hard to imagine an existing city employee couldn't be assigned to check in on the fountain throughout the day. Would it really cost $15,000 to $30,000 a year to have someone check on the fountain? No city official does that now?

In his memo, Snow confuses the issue by suggesting two attendants would be needed to monitor the fountain. It appears, at most, one attendant is needed.

It also seems common sense would apply. If hotels can post a sign that says "No Lifeguard on Duty" and still allow people to swim, there must be a way to allow kids to splash in a zero-depth fountain without an attendant constantly present. Who would enforce the attendant rule? It seems like a red herring to increase estimates of how expensive it is to run the fountain.

See the city's response here.

Original Use

There are suggestions that the fountain was not built with the intention of children splashing in the water, and as a result the city has had to pay $50,000 to $82,000 a year in unanticipated costs to maintain the fountain.

It's clear from news stories dating back to 2000 that a splash fountain was envisioned for the Johnson Parkway. It was being used as such in 2002, and every summer since.

It's likely Snow and the city are trying to save money, and they've targeted the fountain as an area where they can trim. Their plan is to build a $30,000 chain-link fence around the fountain and apparently recirculate water without chlorine. The lack of chlorine will slow wear and tear on the pumps, but it won't completely eliminate maintenance on the fountain (unless they intend to let it go the way of the city's Festival Hall ice rink). There will still be annual costs. What are those costs?


In his memo, Donnie Snow says the city installed a chlorine intake system in 2004 "after it became evident that the public wanted to use the fountain as a splash pad." (Actually, it was the designers and city planners who wanted the fountain used as a splash pad. Just look at it's design! It was made to walk in.)

The city may have installed a new system in 2004, but it was already using chlorine in the fountain in 2003. The JT reported on it in its Glad You Asked column:
Q: Does the Dr. Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain use fresh water or does it recirculate the same water? If it is recirculated, how is the water sanitized?

A: Rick Jones of the city's Public Works Department was a fountain of information for Glad You Asked. He told us the water in the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain is recycled. "We have a very elaborate filtration system," he said. The system, which is underground, uses both chlorine and ozone to clean the water before it is recycled, he said. Additionally the water is tested on a daily basis and there are also regular tests of the spray water to check for microbes. The fountain, by the way, closed for the winter on Oct. 1, but will be back spraying and bubbling in spring on May 1.

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