Casey Cassias of Mission is a principal at the BNIM architecture firm and the president of the City of Fountains Foundation, KCFountains.com. This conversation took place at Mildred’s Coffeehouse in the Crossroads Arts District.
How did you get involved with the fountains?
My mentor and co-principal of BNIM, Bob Berkebile, was on the City of Fountains for years, and if you know Bob, you know Bob travels all the time. So Bob is on a lot of boards, but he’s gone from a lot of the boards that he’s on more than he’s there, and so they were looking for a replacement and Bob suggested me. So I’ve been on there now for about a decade.
Everyone was riveted by the pictures of the horses at the J.C. Nichols fountain, probably our most iconic fountain, being lifted out for maintenance. How is that work coming, and what’s next in terms of restoration?
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We started talking three years ago about the seriously deteriorating condition of many of the fountains. We realized with the city’s budget problems it wasn’t likely the city was going to address the needs. So we identified eight fountains in the city that were deteriorating to the point that they were going to fail or had already failed.
We worked with the parks department to determine it would cost about $2.7 million dollars to fix them, and Anita Gorman and Carl DiCapo led the fundraising effort. As you know, Anita is one of those people you can’t say “no” to, and we’ve raised just shy of $2 million dollars to date. We have also expanded the goal, because one fountain cost more than we thought, and we added the Firefighters Fountain to the list. We think we need to raise about $3.2 million now.
What work is being done on the Nichols fountain?
The infrastructure is worn out — pipes, electrical system, lighting. We put in new pumps last spring. Grundfos donated the pipes and Black & Veatch did the engineering pro bono.
One of the original dolphins that hasn’t been with the others for some time will be reinstalled. Then we’ll put another dolphin on a pedestal nearby and tell the story of the fountain. So that’s all exciting for us. It will all be done by fountain day this year, April 14.
What is the next fountain you will be working on?
The Volker fountain, which sits at the edge of Brush Creek south of the Nelson.
That was put in when the Brush Creek floodway work was done by the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, and they were overly optimistic in what they thought they could do. They were going to recycle the creek water, and the creek water was too dirty, the level fluctuates too much and it didn’t run but for about 18 months before it started having major problems.
I don’t think many of us have a memory of seeing it running, but it is a very prominent location.
Is the Bloch fountain, the city’s newest fountain, at Union Station holding up well?
The technology in that is very complicated.
It is the same technology as the fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but that one is easier to maintain because the Bellagio prints money. It is harder to raise the money to keep ours maintained, but the Bloch Foundation has stepped up and given money to have it completely updated this year or next year.
What has been the most interesting thing you have learned about the fountains?
That they started out as a commodity of water. They were scattered around the city so people could water their horses and their pets.
There is an oft-quoted statistic that Kansas City has more fountains than any city except Rome. How true is that?
(Laughs.) I have heard that a lot. I don’t know factually how true it is.
I think the city owns and operates 47 fountains, but when you look at the number on the City of Fountains website, there are about 150, so the city’s fountains begat a whole lot of other fountains, from Kauffman Stadium to fountains in Prairie Village and at Stowers Institute.
I know the fountains are part of our spirit and our identity and the city responded to that when the Royals were in the World Series; the fountains were scheduled to be shut off Oct. 15, but we kept them turned on throughout the Series and also dyed the water blue, which created a tremendous amount of publicity for them.
2014 was a good year for the fountains.