According to the city's press release, the children themselves share some of the blame for the order banning them:
"Soiled diapers have actually been found and clogged drain areas ...Dogs and other animals have been seen in the fountain...When people walk though, wearing shoes or sandals, they are depositing dirt and other debris that contaminates the water...."Also to blame are changes in state law, the city says, announcing the shut-down in a release "providing answers to residents' questions." The release came from the Mayor's office -- but no city officials were quoted; this is definitely not something anyone at City Hall wants to take "credit" for.
spending $30,000 to fence off the fountain, to keep out the kids it had been built to cool off. The fountain was built in 2002, in part with $50,000 in city money and $150,000 in community donations. State law requiring chlorine (and lifeguards !) took effect in 2005. In 2008 then-Mayor Gary Becker suggested that fountain(s) specifically designed for kids be built at city parks -- or even a municipal swimming pool. Those ideas went nowhere. In his first preliminary budget submittal, Mayor Dickert included $330,000, for one splash fountain. The idea went nowhere as well. More background here.
When asked this afternoon about the potential fines for kids caught in the fountain, Tom Friedel, city administrator, told us "we're going to try to police it, warn people. We're taking it slow." Given current temperatures, he said hopefully, "it's not going to be a problem for a while."
"This is not what we want to do," Friedel said.
When he was mayor -- during the interim between Becker's resignation and Dickert's election -- Fridel said he "tried to put the closure off, tried to get around it. But we just came to the conclusion there is no easy way around it. It's a big investment in plumbing. And a bigger investment long-term for personnel."
Building a splash pad at one or more of the community centers, as Becker had suggested and as Dickert tried to put into his first budget, would have side-stepped some of those costs, Friedel said. "At a community center, we have personnel, we have bathrooms, we have phones and first-aid stations," all of which are required by the state law. The law, by the way, requires "attendants," he said; not the "lifeguards" so often referred to. The attendant is needed as much to keep kids in diapers out of the fountain, to avoid contamination, as for any safety concerns.
Parks and Rec Director Donnie Snow said the potential fine is $75, "but we don't expect to do it; we expect people to comply."
Here's the city's Q&A press release:
City Providing Answers to Residents' Questions
About Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain
RACINE – In order to keep its residents as well informed as possible, the City of Racine has decided to post and answer some of the most frequently asked questions with regard to the changes being made to the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain. The fountain is located at the foot of Sixth Street on the lakefront between Pershing and Festival Parks.
What changes are being made in connection with the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain? The City of Racine Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department has advised that beginning Saturday, May 1, when the fountain is turned on, it will be off limits for playing or use for cooling off. Signs will be posted that the water is not treated and is unsafe and could result in serious injury or disease.
Children have played there for several years, why the change now? When the fountain was built in 2002 it met all State of Wisconsin regulations for use as a “water attraction”. The state has since changed the rules and the fountain no longer meets those regulations.
What is the problem? The fountain was designed with a sand filter. The new regulations require a higher standard to treat and sanitize water which could contain bacteria, viruses, or parasites such as Cryptosporidium that can cause serious illness.
Children are at greatest risk because they are most likely to play in the fountain and they can easily spread pathogens due to wearing diapers, drinking the water, and/or hand to mouth contact.
What is the cause of the problem? Children have been observed in the fountain with diapers. Soiled diapers have actually been found in and clogged drain areas. Dogs and other animals have also been seen in fountain. When people walk though, wearing shoes or sandals, they are depositing dirt and other debris that contaminates the water.
Injury is also a concern because individuals can slip and fall on the wet concrete. These observations made city officials more aware of the possible health hazards associated with people playing in the fountain.
The risk for infection, illness or injury and the increased cost of maintenance has simply become too great to ignore, that combined with fact the fountain no longer meets State of Wisconsin regulations has created the need for the changes.
What about using chlorine? The city added chlorine in 2004 to treat the water in order to make it safe for human contact. However, the chlorine has badly corroded the copper piping which is laid under the fountain’s structure and concrete.
What would it cost to repair and maintain the fountain? The first year’s maintenance and operational costs were $26,500, but grew to $50,000 by 2006. The corrosion problem caused by the chlorine, repair, and maintenance costs ballooned to $82,000 in 2007 and to $96,455 in 2008.
In 2009, the city contracted with an outside company, Aquatica, for an evaluation of the facility. Aquatica noted a number of deficiencies in the fountain’s installation when compared to the new state standards.
To comply with all the new state rules, Aquatica estimated the cost of renovation would exceed $250,000 and operational costs would approach $100, 000 annually. Operational costs include having an attendant on duty.
So, what is the solution? Enjoy the sound and beauty of the fountain. Don’t put your children or yourself at risk by playing in the fountain or drinking the fountain water.
Is there a penalty involved for failure to comply? Yes, individuals found violating this park rule could be fined, per sec. 70-82 of the municipal code.
Are there any options available? Yes, make use of our nationally recognized, award-winning “Blue Wave Beach”. North Beach is an excellent alternative location served by lifeguards beginning June 5, with toilet facilities, picnic areas, phones, and refreshments available from Memorial Day – Labor Day.
Where can I get more information? Call the City of Racine Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department at 262-636-9131.