I just interviewed City Health Director Janelle Grammer and Environmental Health Sanitarian Keith Hendricks about the Laurel Clark Fountain. Grammer and Hendricks play an important role in the discussion because they're required to enforce state code for the fountain.
Here's their conclusions:
1. A new state code, implemented this year, requires an attendant at the fountain whenever people are in the water. The code actually leaves this ambiguous, but Hendricks said he received an interpretation from the state that said an attendant would have to be there whenever the fountain is running.
2. The city is required to enforce the state code, Grammer said. When asked what would happen if the city chose not to enforce the code, Grammer said this was not a possibility.
3. I asked how hotel pools, where there's a clear risk of drowning, can get away with posting a "No Lifeguard on Duty" sign while splash pads like the Laurel Clark Fountain require an attendant. Hendricks said he asked the state the same question, and was not given a clear answer.
4. When asked if there was any question as to whether an attendant was required at the fountain, Hendricks said: "There is no question whatsoever." (This is an important issue because the city would have to pay someone to watch the fountain whenever kids are splashing in the water. This could cost $15,000 a year, money the city may not have.)
5. Hendricks said the state updated its code this year. The city was out of compliance with the state code this summer.
6. The city could request a variance from the state to run the fountain unattended, Grammer said. It's unlikely they would get one, because Milwaukee and other communities throughout the state have splash pads and they provide attendants for them, Hendricks said.
7. There was talk of limiting the hours of the fountain to make it more affordable to run, Hendricks said. But that idea was dismissed because the intent of the fountain was to be "attractive."
8. The fountain was not built with a chlorine system. The chlorine intake system was later added, which led to pumps being eroded, Hendricks said.
9. The chlorine is needed. There are documented cases of untreated "splash" fountains leading to outbreaks of E. coli, Hendricks said. "Numerous people became ill," he said.