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Labor intensive fountain-turned-splash pad to reopen June 15

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 by Laurel Chesky

If all goes well, the popular Liz Carpenter Fountain will reopen in three weeks. But it will be closed two days per week and may need 40 to 50 labor hours per week in maintenance.


“We plan to reopen the fountain by June 15,” said Charles Vaclavik, the parks grounds manager for Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD). “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re very committed to doing that.”


Vaclavik provided an update on the beleaguered fountain to the Parks and Recreation Board last night. The fountain is located in Butler District Park, between Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive next to the Palmer Events Center. The city closed the fountain last month due to a broken pipe and malfunctioning filtration system.


The fountain, which sits flush to the sidewalk, opened in 2007. It quickly became a popular “splash pad” for residents, especially children, and their pets to run through on hot days. The fountain often sees in excess of 1,000 visitors on summer days, said PARD director Sara Hensley.


However, the fountain was not designed such rough use. Dirt, body slough, and dog hair overwhelmed the fountain’s water filtration system, Hensley said, causing a potential public health hazard.


Once reopened, the fountain will require exponentially more maintenance than originally believed necessary to keep it functional and safe. The 101 cans that hold LED lights and mechanisms that control water height will now be cleaned every week to 10 days, Vaclavik said. Before the fountain shut down, the cans, which lay flush to the fountain floor, were cleaned every six months.


In addition, according to PARD staff, the fountain’s filters will be cleaned weekly, the 6,000-gallon water tank that supplies it will be drained and scrubbed weekly, a UV disinfectant system will be installed, and the tank will be hyper-chlorinated each week with four times the amount of chlorine typically used in swimming pools to kill dangerous microbes. The planned maintenance is expected to take 40 to 50 labor hours per week and will require closing the fountain two days a week.


Even so, the fountain can never be 100 percent safe from a public health standpoint, Hensley said, and warning signs will be posted around it. “There’ll be signs that say, ‘No pets,’ ‘No pets in the water’ and ‘Don’t drink the water.’”  While those might seem obvious precautions to some, she said, “We’ve seen (situations) where in one hand, there’s a lady over here rinsing out a dirty diaper in the fountain and another lady over here is filling up a plastic bottle with water.”


How the city will pay for the fountain’s upgrades and beefed-up maintenance remains to be seen. Hensley says she is working with the Austin Parks Foundation to secure private funds as well as identifying city funds that could be diverted to fountain maintenance. When asked if she would tap into bond funds earmarked for improving Butler Park, Hensley said, “I’m going to say no because  I’m trying not to touch that.”


PARD staffers stressed that the proposed level of maintenance is a temporary fix and that they are looking for less labor-intensive ways to make the fountain safe for the public in the long term.


Hensley said that the fountain’s popularity caught the city off guard and serves as a warning for future projects. “If we build it, and we know people are going to come, we have to take care of it properly,” she said. “There has to be money set aside for the maintenance, the operation, and the staffing.”

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