When the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain is working, it’s one of Kansas City’s best-loved and most stunning fountains, complete with graceful jets of water framing three mythological sea horses, cherubs and other replicas of 18th century Italian sculpture.
But it has been broken for a year. So it’s a dormant, dry and rather forlorn sight for the thousands of cars that pass by every day at the intersection of Meyer Boulevard and Ward Parkway.
Unfortunately, this prized piece of public art requires extensive, expensive repairs that may take another year to complete, at a possible cost of $500,000 or more. But neighborhood and parks officials say they are starting to make progress on both the repair analysis and the fundraising to pay for the project.
“It’s very close to us, and close to our hearts, too,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, president of the homes association for Romanelli West, the neighborhood just south of the fountain. “It’s one of the city’s most iconic fountains.”
Fitzpatrick learned Friday that the city has agreed to fulfill at least one of two requests for public money for the fountain’s repairs. The city will provide at least $281,000 in public improvements sales tax dollars. It is considering a second request for more funding but needs a more detailed cost estimate.
That second funding application is more of a long shot, given all the city’s other infrastructure needs. But Fitzpatrick was pleased to have at least $281,000 and said the fountain is worth that public investment.
“This is not a parochial thing,” Fitzpatrick said of the neighborhood’s desire to get the fountain rebuilt. It’s an asset that’s visible every day to countless motorists from all over the metro area, he said, “including our friends in Kansas, and we want them to see what we’ve got in Kansas City.”
Jocelyn Ball-Edson, senior landscape architect with the Kansas City parks department, knows the public is eager to get this repair underway.
“This is such a popular fountain, and there are so many people who drive by it every day and really are concerned about it,” she said.
The original fountain was purchased by J.C. Nichols in the early 1920s in Venice, Italy, with sculpture that dated to the 1700s. The sea horse sculpture in the fountain’s center has long since been replaced by a newer replica, which gets regular repairs and cleaning and is generally in good shape. It’s the basin and other features that need fixing, since the last major overhaul was done in 1992.
When the fountain broke last summer, the city initially estimated the repair cost at $150,000. An anonymous donor has already pledged that amount. It is now clear the cost will be considerably higher, but Ball-Edson said she’s confident other private donors will step forward once actual costs are known.
To that end, the city has engaged the Walter P. Moore and Associates engineering firm to analyze what’s broken and recommend fixes. A report is expected before the end of the year. The firm is doing the same thing for the Delbert J. Haff Circle Fountain at the other end of Meyer Boulevard, right outside Swope Park. That fountain still runs, but its basin is in bad shape.
Ball-Edson said it is already clear that the Sea Horse Fountain’s entire pump room, electrical system and vault need to be rebuilt, because they’ve been repeatedly flooded, and the vault is unsafe. The fountain’s pool leaks, but it’s not clear where the water is coming from. Ball-Edson hopes the fountain can again be working before the end of next summer, but she can’t promise anything until the repair report is done and the fundraising is complete.
David Ford, who is managing the project for Walter P. Moore, said consultants are looking at structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical issues. These fountain repairs are complex projects, he said, because they’re both works of art and works of engineering that are constantly at the mercy of the elements.
“It’s living,” Ford said. “It’s vibrant, and that’s the challenge.”