Functional Fountains

Niemeyer said only one company–an Alabama-based firm–could promise a match for the original fountain. One vintage design shop she visited would have sold a bowl, basin and statue separately, with the library then figuring out “how to put the pieces together,” she said. “I wanted the assurance that the finished piece would be functional.”

From a design and maintenance standpoint, Niemeyer said she’d change one thing if it were to be done again: “I would make a pump accessible above the water so the plumber does not have to wear his swimsuit to adjust water pressure,” she said.

As for the installation, Niemeyer advises other communities to find “quality local installers whom they trust.

“Even though it may be their first fountain installation, find those who will do the research and make the calls to do a great job for you. You will need their help, long after the manufacturers and their installers have left the state.”

“Our plumber is young, but he is fantastic,” she said. “Our electrician is his dad, and he runs a great operation too.”

Maintenance And Upkeep

One of the chief issues for Portland has been maintaining its older fountains, the oldest of which dates to 1888. “Each fountain was designed for a different urban development project,” Knoll explained. “They never had ‘off-the-shelf’ parts and motors.”

For newer fountains, though, the Water Bureau takes a close look at the vaults underneath. “Vaults below fountains are known to leak–but they have motors and pumps in them,” Knoll said. “For the safety and long-term maintenance access, we want to be part of the design process. Siting the vaults and designing them are important.”

The city has also been involved in several restoration projects, partnering with the regional arts council that has curatorial responsibility for the sculptural elements. The bronze Skidmore Fountain–built in 1888–was designed as a fountain for men, horses and dogs. Residents and visitors used to drink from tin cups that hung on the fountain’s base, according to the city. In 2005, the water bureau set aside $33,000 to restore the Skidmore fountain, “the city’s oldest piece of public art,” said Knoll. “It was leaking, had pump problems, and the granite surfaces needed restoration after decades of water flowing over them.” The agency’s operations and maintenance staff worked closely with a professional conservator to overhaul the fountain–a “shining example” of the joint working relationship, said Knoll.

In the mid-1990s, the city put $600,000 into the Keller Forecourt Fountain–built in 1971–upgrading lighting, restoring loose rock and fixing leaks. “It no longer met electrical codes at that time,” Knoll said. “The rock surfaces had settled and were leaking more than a million gallons of water a day.”

And it’s not just older fountains that require work: Portland’s Salmon Street Springs fountain–built in 1988–is operated by computer to change water patterns, and the city has replaced and reprogrammed the computers to keep it up and running.

“The goal is to keep the fountains in top shape to ensure that future generations of Portlanders can enjoy the historic, scenic and fun gathering places,” Knoll said. “The sound of water in any urban setting adds quality to the setting. We’re proud of the work we do on these fountains.”

Dan Shortridge is a freelance writer and editor from Delaware. He worked for five years as an outdoor skills instructor and director at a Boy Scout summer camp in Maryland.

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