The City of Fountains Foundation stepped up when City Hall fell down.
That’s a succinct way to sum up how the private sector reacted when Kansas City’s elected officials and city staff refused to adequately keep up the public properties that are the main selling points for “The City of Fountains.”
During years of neglect, mayors, City Council members and others stood by as pumps failed, concrete decayed, nozzles rusted, wiring frayed and sculptures cracked.
Fortunately, three years ago, the City of Fountains Foundation said it would try to raise the money required to repair some of the fountains that city officials include in slick publications that promote Kansas City to the world.
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At the time, the Wish Upon a Fountain Campaign hoped to generate $2.5 million to repair eight high-priority fountains. The group also said it wanted to focus the public’s attention on taking better care of the city’s nearly 50 fountains of various sizes and complexities.
Those missions have been accomplished to a large degree, though challenges remain to even more progress.
Last Tuesday, as the city celebrated Fountain Day 2016, the foundation reported a solid record of success, thanks to contributions of $3.5 million from companies, philanthropists and citizens.
Pat O’Neil, president of the foundation, spoke from the heart about the fundraising campaign.
“Has it been successful? Yes, very,” he said. “Has it taken a little longer than we would have liked? Yes.”
Part of the problem is that repairs have been more costly than first thought.
On Tuesday, the public and civic elite gathered at the William Volker Memorial Fountain, then cheered as water began flowing again in the large structure east of the Plaza and south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. But that moment did not come cheaply. Three years ago, the original fixes were estimated to cost $650,000; they ran nearly double that, partly because of underground issues, and the foundation gathered $1.2 million in donations for the project.
O’Neil said the Volker fountain was “kind of a metaphor for the Kansas City spirit: It was an engineering and construction challenge to bring it back to life. We almost gave up on raising enough money to fix it. But companies and philanthropists stepped up over and over again to raise money, fix problems and figure out how to make it work.”
Progress is being made on other key projects, O’Neil said. Repairs are underway or still needed at:
▪ Children’s Fountain. It should be fully functional later this spring, thanks to contributions of $250,000.
▪ Delbert Haff Fountain. Available funding so far is $461,000.
▪ Spirit of Freedom Fountain. About $250,000 has been raised, but the final scope of work is still being investigated.
▪ Seahorse Fountain at Meyer Circle. Significant problems still need to be fixed, even after initial repairs were made. A donation of $150,000 is available to help.
▪ Westside Fountain. Design consultants are reviewing needed renovations, and $100,000 has been raised so far.
Two fountains are fully functional after recent repairs.
▪ Seville Light Fountain’s restoration was completed last spring at a cost of $500,000.
▪ J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain also was restored last year thanks to contributions of $455,000 plus $55,000 worth of in-kind work and services.
What else helped? The play of the World Series champion Royals.
“Our fountains are a reflection of our city’s personality and vitality — and those fountains pumping blue water were seen by hundreds of millions of people around the globe during the playoff and World Series runs,” O’Neil said. “That exposure reminded our own citizens just what a treasure our fountains are, and how important it is that we embrace them and keep them.”
That’s great to see. Still, City Hall has a duty to future generations to spend taxpayer funds to better maintain some of the city’s prime public assets.