October 29, 2009

R.I.P. to Downtown's kids' fountain?

Wipe that smile off your face, kid ... the fountain's closing

Summer's over, but the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain issue continues to be red hot. Will kids ever again splash in the lovely fountain built in 2001 as part of the Monument Square / Sam Johnson Parkway downtown redevelopment project?

Don't bet on it.

It was almost one year ago (Nov. 12, 2008) when the dumbest idea ever surfaced at City Hall: spend $30,000 to fence off the fountain. Seems the state (dumbest idea No. 2) is now requiring lifeguards, and chlorine -- things the city didn't budget for because they weren't required when the fountain was built.

There are many versions to this story. One is that the fountain never was designed for kids to splash in and enjoy. The opposite version, told to me yesterday by Alderman Greg Helding, is that the design materials shown to the city council before they approved building the fountain (with $150,000 in public donations and $50,000 in city money) clearly showed kids romping through the spray.

And as for the chlorine requirement: Helding said he wondered whether the city simply could pump water from Lake Michigan through the fountain, and then back into the lake. Answer: No way, José. Lake water's not "clean" enough, he was told. But, of course, it's clean enough for kids to swim in it...

It's easy to fault the city for all this, but that would be wrong. The city didn't build the fountain for chlorine or lifeguards because they weren't required at the time, according to Aquatica, the consultant the city hired to look into this in February: "At the time of design and construction, the fountain appears to have been compliant with all codes and standards the State of Wisconsin had in place." It was only in 2005 that state law changed, according to Aquatica's code compliance report issued in May 2009:
One element of the 2005 Comm 90 Water Attraction section dealt with “Interactive Play Attractions” to address play in which water is sprayed onto patrons, but standing water is not part of the activity. This section was created to address “splashpads,” by which in-deck or above ground features spray water onto patrons, but no standing water is provided in which patrons can drown. The 2005 Comm 90 code specifically addresses recirculated water systems, where water from the features is retained, filtered and chemically treated before returning to the spray deck area. During deliberations of the Comm 90 Advisory Code Council in 2003, it was determined that the State of Wisconsin should incorporate American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommendations for recirculated interactive play attractions into the Water Attraction code section, including a filtration cycle in which the full volume of retained water is filtered and chemically treated within 30 minutes.
Back in November 2008, with Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow estimating that it would cost $175,000 to re-fit the fountain to handle chlorine -- not to mention the need to find funding for those lifeguards -- then-Mayor Gary Becker floated the idea of creating new splash fountains (yes, he used the plural) at other locations in the city. Current Mayor John Dickert drank the same Kool-Aid and included $330,000, for one, in the preliminary budget he presented to the council last week.

Neither of those suggestions addresses the issues of lifeguards, and the paying for them, or offers as central a location as we already have, although the city, see below, now says the current location "in a traffic island" is unsafe. And the estimated cost of repairs to the fountain has almost doubled (see below). But that's just me, venting.

In any case, the city administration came up with answers to some of the aldermen's questions last night. Here they are:

Issues concerning closure
of Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain
for use as a splash pad
1.Do we have funds in the budget for operation and maintenance of the splash pad? How much? What is your estimate of the minimal cost of operation?

We do not have any funds specifically allocated for the operations and maintenance of the proposed splash pad as we do not know when it would be fully operational and anticipate the first year to be minimal cost. We would only anticipate shut-down and chemical costs to be incurred. However, we do have funds appropriated in 2010 professional services budget for the LCMF and the proposed splash pad maintenance needs.

2.Why are we closing the fountain for use as a splash pad?

The fountain was built and designed in 2000/2001 according to the State codes and standards at that time. There have been two major revisions since then. The fountain operation now has a litany of WDOC 2009 Comm 90 and WDOHS 2009 DHS 172 deficiencies that would require and estimated investment of at least $247,000 to make needed and necessary repairs caused by the long term effects of the mix of chemical off-gassing that corrodes the fountain pipes, modules and pumps. We also need to relocate the fountain chemicals used to disinfect/ adjust pH to an above ground location to eliminate the chemical off-gassing. The existing and persistent issues of maintenance (current annual maintenance cost of $80,000 not including utilities cost) are much more than anticipated.

Further, to bring the LCMF in compliance as a splash pad would significantly compromise it as a memorial fountain, e.g., the feature rate gpm would have to be reduced which would impact the visual significance of the fountain as the height of feature spray would have to be diminished. The diameter of the center spray feature fitting would have to be reduced as the vertical spray feature exceeds the maximum ½ opening size permitted by Comm 90.

Additionally, if you chose to do all of these repairs, the fact remains that the LCMF would still need a waiver for some of the new codes and is located in a traffic island which presents series safety risks to children that are oblivious to their surrounding conditions. We must ask ourselves is if a traffic island a safe place for such an attraction for our children to play and recreate? In our view it is not.

3. List of LCMF that we are not in compliance with State law, etc.

This year the City of Racine PRCS Department enlisted the services of Aquatica, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to review the LCMF for state code compliance and estimated probable construction cost involved in repair or replacement of the existing fountain. In a report issued by Aquatica in May, 2009, a number of deficiencies in the existing fountain installation when compared to WDOC 2009 Comm 90 and WDOHS 2009 DHS 172 jurisdictional standards were cited. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

▪ Comm 90.13 deck requirements for slope and deck joint width and depth.
▪ Comm 90.14 circulation system requirements for turnover time, flow meters, filter and pump sizing, and maximum drain grate opening size
▪ Comm 90.16 requirements for cross connection control of make-up water
▪ Comm 90.17 requirements for interlocking of chemical controller with the recirculation pump
▪ Comm 90.19 requirements for toilet and sanitary facilities within 300 feet (paved walking distance)
▪ Comm 90.22 requirements for separation of recirculation and feature pump piping
DHS 172.25 requirements for posted signage of permissible patron load
DHS 172.26 requirements for a telephone with posted emergency numbers at the fountain
DHS 172.27 requirement for a first aid kit at the fountain
DHS 172.29 requirement for posted signage of fountain usage rules
▪ Plumbing code requirements for air break separation of backwash and underground tank overflow discharge to storm systems
WDNR requirements for discharge of chemically treated water into storm systems that immediately discharge into open water

The estimated probable renovation construction cost for the above items, assuming that a Petition for Variance would be granted to allow continued use of existing toilet facilities located beyond 300 feet, would be in excess of $247,000.
Aquatica's report is HERE.


  1. reminds me of one of my favorite phrases...

    "The oughta make a law for that..."

    Cuz look how well that seems to work!

  2. Note yes it is a shame,we do not need to replace it at 300K. Perhaps J-Wax could start a community drive to pay for another, but not the tax payer.

  3. Here's a $50 solution. Put up a small, inconspicuous sign that says, "Please don't play in the fountain."

  4. Anon 3:56.

    HA HA HA. $50! HA HA HA

    The Aquatics report (linked above) says, and I quote:

    "The least expensive option available to the City of Racine is to prohibit public play at the fountain. The methods of prohibiting public play would need to be discussed with, and approved by, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Racine Department of Health. Such methods might include posted signage and installation of a minimal barrier (such as a chain) to discourage play by the public. It is anticipated that the cost associated with this type of “fix” would be under $5,000."

  5. OK, a $5,000 solution then. And a police patrol to make sure they chase everybody out, say, around 4:30 every afternoon.

  6. Sounds like a job for some special legislation with a grandfather clause exempting memorial fountains dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients.

    Maybe one of our local legislators could show their colleagues the picture of Capt. Clark's son smiling as he's hugged by his father while he romped in the fountain after the citywide memorial service for his mother a couple years ago.

    That would be hard to vote against.

  7. Pete:

    PUH LEASE!!! The picture you show of the young child "playing" in the fountain is NOT representative of the majority of children who "play"
    in that fountain and you know it.

    The elites in Downtown Racine do not want unsupervised minority children (Half of them in diapers) playing in the fountain. Tell me I'm wrong. Let's be real here.

    NICE TRY!!! It was good for a laugh though. Thank you, I needed that after a long hard days work.

  8. Anon 4:11 -

    I'll be one pissed off taxpayer if police are used to patrol and guard a fountain!! Absolutely preposterous!

  9. Anon 5:26. This is not a racial issue; let's not try to turn it into one. Kids of all colors and ages enjoy the fountain.

    And most, if not all, when I've been there watching, have been supervised. The fountain's downtown location almost ensures that the kids need an adult to bring them there.

  10. There really, really has to be a responsible way to work this out.

    If there's a real health issue, then chlorinate, if needed, but let's not close this community resource to the children.

    How do they handle open summertime hydrants in Milwaukee?

    Surely, there's a common sense solution to this.

    Working out these solutions is what we pay our representatives to do.

    Who's going to step up to solve this?

  11. Keith W. Deschler10/29/2009 10:51 PM

    Doesn't anybody buy sprinklers anymore? Give me a break, everybody is screaming about taxes constantly climbing yet expecting city government to provide services beyond necessity.

  12. Randolph - Read the report, the chlorination would require $300,000+ in upgrades to the fountain.

  13. Tim the Shrubber10/30/2009 8:33 AM

    Sorry. Not really understanding why this is such a big issue. The story is simple...the State changed the law and the City of Racine is screwed. Nothing new there.

  14. Just break the law and run it as it has been - are the water fountain police going to arrest someone.

  15. I agree with Randolf, seems like we should be able to have it grandfathered.

    That doesn't however solve the problem for the sweetheart who went out of their way to see if the fountain was legal.

    I grew up in Chicago. That "fountain" is designed like every water play park used by kids. Those were located all around Chicago. I think they got sick of us opening the hydrants.

    Has anyone tried Randolf's idea yet? might just work.

    Oh brother Keith and others. It is already built. It is already a great place to visit on the cheap with your family. Maybe if you actually played in it, and yes adults do too. You would see it is not at all like the sprinklers you have at home.

    Is there any project we could work together on? Someone get the petition circulating to save the splash pad to remember our fallen astronaut.

  16. Can't we just change the dates on some meeting minutes or something? Becker knew how to run a fountain that attracted kids.

  17. so what is our state legislator/mayoral candidate wannbe doing about this? isn't this what he should be handling for his constituents? having johnson fund yet another racine item is too much. if that is the case lets just name the town johnson or sams town. get bob turner on this!!

  18. What sweetheart? Who stirred up this trouble in the first place?

  19. Sailors Pool Hall10/30/2009 11:48 AM

    Replace the Civil War soldier on Monument Square with a likeness of Fisk. The new statue could pass chlorinated water down onto a wading pool below where inner city children splash and play. Very chic and appropriate.

  20. Orbs... The real plan was to put a Fountain and Splash Pool in the Round-a-bout so Becker could watch from His City Hall office. The hang-up was age limits. He wanted no one under 12 and no one over 15.

  21. Sailor: That sounds loverly.

  22. Leave as is - a little pee won't hurt anyone.

  23. Anon 5:26, what a racist piece of work you are. What difference does it make what child is portrayed in the photo? ALL kinds of children use it, and should be allowed to continue to do so.

    I've been downtown many times to "Music on the Mount" and have never heard one person, worker or, as you so idiotically put it, "the elites," complain about the kids playing in the fountain. In fact, EVERYONE I've ever discussed this issue with supports the idea of keeping it open, just as it always has been, for the kids to play in. It’s a great free activity for kids and a great way for the adults to meet, talk and get out in the open air. And I have never seen any unsupervised kids in diapers there. I think it's YOU who don't like to see black kids playing in what you would prefer to be an all white community.

    Randolph, the responsible way to work this out is to tell the state to keep their nose out of it. Here, once again, is a perfect example of the state over-regulating and driving people away.

    Keith, as much as I support you and would like to see you run for mayor, I think that allowing children to play in a fountain that is normally going to operate, whether children are present or not, is hardly a big dollar tax issue. I think you should get behind this.

    Anon 8:37, unfortunately, if we ignore the state they will find some kind of funding to deny us until we break down and goose step beside them.

    Frankly, I don't care what funding the state would decide to suspend, the city council should tell the state to go stuff themselves.

  24. How ironic, the last line of Aquatica's proposal: "Thank you for the opportunity to serve your community."

    It's nothing but a DISservice to our community to seal off the Laurel Clark Fountain to the public.

    Then I see all those elected officials, paid to represent our best interests, all puffed-up and smiling for the photo ops and the announcement of the $10 million lakefront development.

    Those elected officials ought to go to bat for us on this issue.

    What's next? Disallow swimming in the lake?

    This is government gone crazy.

    Whoever started this nasty ball rolling - go cause trouble somewhere else, like a deserted island.

  25. Deny it all you want, J-Wax doesn't want the black folk, unsupervised and out of control down there. I just call it like I see it. I type what others are afraid to type. Did I mention that I am white??

  26. Thousands of families have used and learned to love this fountain; there is nothing in our area in the way of a free or inexpensive pool such as Kenosha's on Washington Rd.

    How about this? Ask for donations to be sent in to keep fountain going. Many, including our family, will be happy to send in a one-time gift, much as we do annually to things like the "Empty Stocking" fund.

    Try it?

  27. "Deny it all you want, J-Wax doesn't want the black folk, unsupervised and out of control down there. I just call it like I see it. I type what others are afraid to type."

    You type what others are too smart to type. Do you really think there was a conspiracy between J-Wax, the State Health Dept, and City Hall to shut down the fountain because black kids splashed in it three months out of the year?

    Someone is off their meds.

  28. Anon 5:45, it's obvious you are white..., and a bigot, or as Anon 6:49 puts it, off your meds.

    Anon 5:42, good idea. When are you going to organize it and get the ball rolling? I'll donate, if you run the program.

  29. Graham:

    Sounds like anon is sticking up for the minority youth. Are you brain dead??

  30. Anon 6:06, if I misinterpreted what Anon 5:45 was saying, I stand corrected and apologize.

  31. Couldn't little charcoal filters be fitted at the spouts?