Kansas City’s Firefighters Memorial Fountain, dedicated in 1991, is to get a new memorial wall and other upgrades this summer.
The improvements are designed to give the memorial more visibility and make it a more inviting landmark on 31st Street at the southern edge of Penn Valley Park.
“It’s a great memorial, but it serves primarily as a drive-by,” said Porter Arneill, public art administrator for the Municipal Art Commission. “This will be a real enhancement to the site and a benefit both to the firefighters and also to the relationship to Penn Valley Park.”
Advocates hope the semitransparent, metal-fabricated memorial wall, which will be internally lighted at night, will be a draw for people to stop and spend some time at the fountain and adjacent plaza.
The memorial was conceived in 1988 after six firefighters were killed in a construction site explosion. Funds were raised through a collaboration between the Fire Department, the parks department and private donors, and it opened in 1991. It features a large fountain, two bronze statues of firefighters plus a ring of pedestal markers with the names of about 100 fallen firefighters etched in granite.
There’s no room for more names, but some need to be added, said Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Grote.
The landscaping is also “tired,” and it’s clearly time for some modernization, said parks director Mark McHenry. “I think the wall and the lights will be gorgeous.”
The money is available because the Fire Department spent millions of dollars over the past dozen years on new and renovated fire stations. The city’s One Percent for Art program requires funds to be set aside in construction budgets for art work.
Arneill said the Fire Department decided it was pointless to put tiny art projects at each fire station, where the public would never see them. So the money was pooled to be spent on the Firefighters Memorial. The fund now has $225,000, plus about $50,000 in contingency money available.
Artist Barbara Grygutis of Tucson, Ariz., was chosen in a competitive process to do the work.
In an interview, she said she was inspired by the location on a hill with a great view of Penn Valley Park. It’s always a challenge, she said, to update an existing monument, but she thought it could benefit from the new lighting and new, more prominent wall and memorial plaques for the fallen firefighter names.
“What happens with all memorials is, people forget,” she said. “I think revitalizing it in this way is a really important project.”
The existing names, which are not in alphabetical or chronological order on the granite pedestal markers, will be covered over with panels that can perhaps provide a history of the Fire Department later.
Grygutis also provided a design for a possible future phase of work, but it would cost an estimated $250,000 to $300,000, and those funds still need to be raised. The phase could include a shade canopy over the plaza and pedestal markers to make the memorial more comfortable in hot months.