This talk is part of the Fountain Fundamentals Conference, July 10-11, 2013, Kansas City, MO.

Challenges of Maintaining the Fountains of “The City of Fountains” – Kansas City by Jocelyn Ball-Edson

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: For today’s talk, I tried to categorize this into four super categories. My basic four categories … and this all overlaps. They’re all interchangeable and interdependent. They intermingle completely. I tried to organize this just for the sake of a talk.
First of all weather, which is always entertaining in Kansas City. Water … I know a lot of you know a lot more about. Animals and people. People are certainly the largest and most complicated category. We’ll get to them.
Let’s start with weather. Kansas City does have all the seasons. We don’t always have them in the right and most predictable order. We do have all the extremes. If you were here yesterday, you experienced the heat. There are other times where it’s 45 degrees one morning and 85 degrees the next day. A couple days later it could snow. We call it whiplash weather. It’s never very dull for very long.
My first weather item I want to talk about is ice. The usual period of high risk of serious freezing here is from mid-October to mid-April. Normally, we shut down most of our fountains during October. Except for Veterans Fountains which we leave on until Veterans day in November.

We do have three fountains including this one at Northland Fountain, which are left on all winter to create ice sculptures when the weather is freezing. When it’s warmer, they just operate like normal fountains.

Seville Light Fountain

Seville Light Fountain

These fountains do have a little higher maintenance issues with the freezing and the ice. Sometimes the nozzles have to be replaced more often. Pipes might break a little more often. Also, if they have concrete base, and a couple of them do, the ice will bang against that exterior wall and cause some cracking and extra problems. There’s one of these three fountains in the south part of the city which has very significant concrete damage. Largely from the ice.

The rest of the fountains we turn on normally the second Tuesday of April, which is Fountain Day. This schedule misses most of the freezing weather. Now and then we will have a later hard freeze. That’s when you get this. After the fountains have been turned on, if the ice builds up on the sculpture, it’s actually pretty rare. But it does happen once in a while. This is from a couple of years ago.
You can imagine the weight of the ice does build up on certain things. It’s not usually a problem, but if anything has any kind of weak joint or weak seem, sometimes between a patch. For instance, there was one fountain that had a stone bowl that had been vandalized. The patch was damaged by the weight of the ice. It didn’t fall out right away, but it fell out the next year. Looking back at pictures, you can see that that cracked developed after this ice event and got worse.

Taking that to the next step, our freeze/thaw cycle is really the greatest threat that we have for a lot of things in terms of weather here. It will be warm and sunny in the day time in the winter. The ice and snow will melt. That night, it will freeze again. It gets into every little pore and every little pocket and crack.

Sometimes you get this. It’s especially a problem when you have a porous material like travertine. This is supposedly a red Pakistani travertine on these bowls. This is the Seville Light Fountain. I found, two of these bowls have cracked and fallen off. A very patient conservator, Gary (Gary Keshner) and his assistant, had put this back together. It was a daunting task and not an easy thing to do. They did glue it all back together. They had to use a lot of patching compound where necessary where there wasn’t enough material to fill.
Hopefully they’re in better condition now. They’ll never look the same. The patching will always be there. They have continued to develop further cracks. The north and south bowls have not yet fallen off but they do have some cracks in them. You can see on the left, the white travertine has developed some pretty significant fissures.

That’s a little example of the freeze/thaw. Two sculptures that we have that are really very interesting pieces … We were just talking about these a little while ago. Adam and Eve at Loose Park. These are aggregate marble chips in a red concrete cast material. You can see at the top on the right, at the top of Adam’s head, the red concrete had begun to degrade. Every little tiny pocket created a place for the water to get into. The ice formed and it just made those pockets bigger and bigger.

You can see on the bottom right, there’s a crack in the arm. There were a few other losses, too. The other bottom picture there is after it was restored. It was restored with a slurry coat to smooth and fill all those little gaps and resurfaced. Now the look really very good. They’re quite stable now.

Adam has a small problem with his broken right hand. Which, we have those fingers and we’ll get them put back on. It’s an old injury, an old patch. I thinks it’s actually a really convenient place for kids to step when they’re climbing on him. I think that’s how that happened.

Wind is another weather issue. It’s not a huge problem for most things, but we do have serious winds here. It’s not unusual to have 50-60 mile an hour storm go through. Of course, we are in tornado alley and we could have tornado. We’ve had micro bursts in this area by this fountain. This is Volker down by the Brush Creek. It includes four sculptures by Carl Milles.
The little angel up on the pedestal is … all his weight is standing on that one leg on that tall, skinny pedestal. He has this crack on the bottom right in his leg. I think that might be a casting flaw. Originally, there was a weld scar there in the very early pictures that I could find.

Certainly the wind has aggravated this problem. It hasn’t actually caused the crack to open up. It may be a freeze/thaw issue as well. Probably a combination. I think the crack makes that a bigger threat in that location. He’s somebody … I really need to get him fixed soon.

So lightening … I didn’t take these pictures. I don’t go out in lightning storms and take pictures. I got these off the internet. Somebody else went out. It’s, again, not the biggest problem in the world. We do have a lot of power outages from lightening. Just last week we had a storm go through. This one on the right, I think was actually a couple of weeks ago.
The power will go off. It will come back on. You’ll get surges. A lot of times the motors go on and off. The fountains don’t really appreciate that so much. We did have a lightning strike right near Children’s Fountain a couple of weeks ago. It blew out the fuses and seized up the motor. The motor had to be pulled out and taken for repairs. It happened right across the street at the same time at the Water Treatment Plant. They had exactly the same problem. It was pretty easy to figure it was the lightning strike.
More generic pictures. I love this fan. If you were here yesterday, you know that’s what that felt like. We do get these ridiculously hot days. Again, heats probably not the biggest problem for a fountain, per se. Except for a couple things. First of all, if the heat can melt or soften the asphalt in the street, you know it’s probably playing havoc with caulk. A lot of our fountains depend heavily on caulk. It’s the tiniest thing but it makes the biggest difference in the world. It softens and that’s a problem. Also, things expand, of course.

The other thing, from a conservatives perspective is, you can’t touch the bronze when it’s that hot. We don’t do any conservation work, for the most part, in the summers. Usually most of our conversation’s done in the spring and fall.
My next super category is water. Of course water’s required for fountains. The fountains own water is really responsible for many of the biggest challenges in maintaining fountains. First of all, there’s just the sheer force of it … the impact. In this case, the jets land on the bronze and on the stone rim of the interior bowl.

This is J. C. Nichols. It has a lot of water power. Big nozzles. Big sprays. It varies depending on the water pressure. That doesn’t always land in exactly the same spot,

JC Nichols Fountain

JC Nichols Fountain

which is good. But it does cause some wearing on the sculptures. Also, the other thing about the high pressure water is, of course, the pipes are occasionally going to burst. You get a lot of wear and tear on the seams and the joints.
The other fun thing about water is rust. Any ferrous metal anywhere even in the vicinity of a fountain will rust. I think that somehow the fountains can find metal that nobody even knows is there. Pipes, grates, pipe supports, pumps. Anything that has any kind of ferrous metal will rust. That rust, of course, will travel. On the right, you can see at Eagle Scout the staining in the stone that is caused by that rust.

It also leaves deposits on sculptures. You can see on the right especially. You can see where the water line is on the bronze. That’s partly rust deposits and partly some other things … dirt. Also, upper left, the staining in the background on J.C. Nichols is the rust in the water. Also, the bronze finishes get warn off quite a lot, quite frankly, by the power of the water as well.
Here’s my story about caulk. The upper left picture, if you can see it, the very tiny little cracks underneath the capstone. Just barely you can see them. This is after the fountain had been caulked and waterproofed on the bottom. The walls were water proofed. The contractor missed these little seams. A whole bunch of them. It’s above the water line so I think he probably didn’t think it was important.

You can see, there’s a lot of wave action. Even the capstone has gotten splashed on. The bottom picture below that is what happens. That water found everyone of those little cracks and traveled underneath the capstone and out over the wall and out onto the sidewalk. Just from those tiny little cracks.

The upper right is the caulk actually blowing out and the water squirting out sideways out of the seam. At the bottom is the mortar just raining down and leeching out of the mortar seem under the capstone and actually etching the granite on that fountain.
Concrete … Does the same with concrete. Concrete cracks. It also spalls. The minerals leech out of it. Essentially, it can just dissolve in the face of this constant onslaught of water and ice. Bottom left is one of the fountain that is left on in the winter. That’s damage from the ice as well as the water. Of course, it gets in there … soaks into the concrete and freezes and thaws. That whole fountain needs to basically be rebuilt. That’s Delbert Haff fountain.

Water quality … a constant balancing act. Algae is a constant issue. Trying to maintain the water quality. Keep the balance of the chemicals and the heat and everything else. Of course, it gets up on the stone and grows very nicely on some of the stone sculptures. Cleaning that off is a fairly constant effort, as well.

My third super category is animals. I love this robin. He’s adorable. It’s hard to begrudge any critter a drink on a hot day. Some of our fountains work just fine as bird baths. Of course, animals can also do some harm and leave a mess. It was really pretty impressive when you saw all the geese standing around Meyer Circle Fountain. They stood on the rim and it was like sculptures. They were beautiful. Then the left and this was what was left behind.

There are some fountains around Brush Peak you can’t even walk around because of the goose droppings. It’s really a mess. Of course, that adds to our trouble with the water quality. These geese on the left are in J.C. Nichols fountain. I’ve heard from some of the conservators I’ve worked with about the special properties of squirrel urine on bronze. That’s always a little bit of a problem, too.
I have to say, as much trouble as they cause to the fountains and annoyance to people, the fountains are actually at least as big a threat or bigger threat to the animals in many cases. The fountains are generally 18″ to 2′ deep. They almost all have a straight vertical side. When little birds get in that don’t swim, they can’t get out. If they get in any deeper water, they can’t get out. They will drown.

You’ll also find other animals … critters, squirrels, possums, raccoons, mice, rats, all kinds of things can get into the fountains and drown. If the water is not in the fountain, they might jump in for a drink out of a little puddle at the bottom in the winter time. Then they can’t jump back out again, either. I’m not going to show you any pictures of what the results of that are. If you want more details, you can talk to Jonathan in the back there.

Children's Fountain

Children’s Fountain

My fourth super category is people. This is by far the biggest category. I put these pictures in from the internet again. Just to show it’s not only us. People play in fountain everywhere. You can see the Eiffel Tower in the background. I especially like the guy on the right who’s doing a dive into water that is knee deep on some people in the background.

The first aspect of people in considerations are the political issues and budgets. Several years ago, for instance, people in the north land felt that the were not included in the City of Fountains because they didn’t have any city owned fountains north of the River. That’s the area we call the North Land. They lobbied and raised funds and launched a huge campaign.
They actually ended up with two fountain. The first one I showed you with the ice is one of theirs. It’s the North Land Fountain. This is also a children’s fountain. Very popular in the North Land. They’re very possessive and very attached to the fountain. Of course, that’s sort of true everywhere. People want a fountain in their area, their neighborhood, their part of the city.
As much as people love the fountains, and we have the fountains as our logo and our city slogan, the fact is there’s still always a lot of competition for funding. Of course, there’s a lot of other issues in the city. The fountains are not generally funded … of course, nothing is funded to the degree anybody wants it to be.

Ten years ago we had $500,000 for our annual budget for maintenance and for conservation and restoration. Over the last ten years, it dwindled from $500,000 to $250,000 and then to exactly zero. This year we’re back up to $250,000 so we’re kind of … we have high hopes for that.

It’s not nearly going to cover all of the needs that we have for the year. We just launched a huge fund raising campaign with the City of Fountains Foundation, which is a support group, and the Parks Department together have launched a … they had a big Festival of Fountains a couple of weeks ago. So far, that’s already netted us one donation of $133,000 for Eagle Scout Fountain, which was exciting.
Unfortunately it will never be enough funding from city government because there’s always so many other competition … things to compete with.

The design decisions are fundamental to everything that comes after the fountain for the rest of its life. We have some very simple fountains. Just a couple left like the one on the left that … I think we have three left like this, maybe two … that are flow through design. Very simple. The water comes in, the water goes out. There’s no pumps. There’s no electrical system. There’s no recirculating system. It’s a lot easier to maintain in a lot of ways.

It’s also … I call it blissfully simple or a catastrophic waste of water, depending on your perspective. The water department doesn’t like us to do this. Most people would never design a fountain anymore in the future … from now forward that doesn’t recirculate. On the other hand, you have very complicated computerized display at Bloch Fountain. A huge pump room with all kinds of equipment and computers that manage a constantly varying display.

The location is another big issue. Partly a design decision. Partly a political decision. Fountains in medians and traffic circles are pretty popular around here, actually. I think in most places because they can be seen very easily but they can’t be seen very well. It’s very hard to walk up to it. Most people drive by this fountain and have no idea what it’s called. Some people didn’t even know that it was a fountain because it was turned off for so many years.

When we restored it, the people were asking, “What is that? What’s the name of it?” Obviously, access to a site in the median of the street is a difficult issue sometimes. There’s worker safety to be considered. There are also some other issues with being close to the snow removal. This one’s not too close to snow but the snow will get piled up on the concrete sidewalk.
There’s a couple of other fountains that are actually closer than that to the street. The salt that they put down for the snow, and then they shovel the snow and shoot it up on to the sculptures sometimes or into the fountain. That can be an issue.
This is American War Mothers. It’s obviously pretty vulnerable to cars. It has been hit three times in the last eight years. Before the renovation, after the renovation. Both times, you can see that little stone wall perimeter was able to stop the car. However, the third time the car went airborne over that little stone wall and changed the name of the fountain to American War Mothers Car Wash. This is our new nick name for it. It’s one of my favorite pictures.

Fortunately, that’s as good as it could get if this is going to happen. He landed alongside the column but he didn’t hit the column. Tiniest little scratch, that’s it. The back wheels hooked up on the other wall so he didn’t continue through to the other side and blast out the wall. He did, however, leave a mess. Oil and transmission fluid soaked into limestone and in the water. The tiles were popped off the interior of the wall. There were some chips. Really, all in all, I don’t think you could ask for a better result if you’re really going to have to hit a fountain with a car.

Vault design is another big issue. The fountain with the two red travertine bowls that fell off, the Seville Light fountain, this is what’s underneath it. This is why that fountain has not operated since I took these pictures in 2005. You can see on the left, very far in the back, is Kevin. He’s getting at the sump pump in there. Trying to pull out the sump pump and get it fixed so that all that flooding in the floor could drain out.

This vault is 4′ wide, 5′ tall and 20′ long. If you are more than 5′ tall you can’t even stand up straight in there. The blue boxes on the right, those are the electrical boxes … all rusty from water draining through them from the fountain above. Also from rain water coming in through the one vent at the front by the ladder. Which is where all the … it was usually mulch from the flower bed that would clog the sump pump and cause it to flood.

There was also leaking pipes. You can see the stalactites on the ceiling, which is the floor of the fountain, from the water draining through from the fountain above. This is probably the worst of all, honestly, that we have. There are some others that are also old. Not up to modern safety standards … modern codes. For instance, there’s no extra ventilation in this. The access is just absurd. If anybody had any kind of a problem or issue with that far back corner of this, it would not get out.

We have another vault that’s much larger than this and has a much bigger water display. The pipe burst two minutes after somebody got out of the vault. It filled the entire vault in seconds. If anything like that happened, it would be a pretty bad disaster. We’re trying to get all three designed and rebuilt in newer ways.

This is a fairly new vault. You can see much better doors. The safety doors that lock open. When they’re closed, they’re water tight. There’s second set of backup systems. A lot more space inside. Much better plan. Also, for vaults for small fountains, they don’t even need to be underground. All the equipment can be accessed from a pit on top of the ground.

I’m not going to dwell on construction methods and quality. I just wanted to include it. Primarily to say it’s not done by magic. It’s all done by people. People aren’t ever going to be perfect. Some of them are less perfect than others. Some of the quality that we’ve gotten on some of the construction has not been what we would have really liked.

This one had problems from the very beginning. We covered it up with tile, which also had very big problems. Basically all needs to be done over. The real learning experience from that one is to be more specific in our requirements … proof of expertise in construction before people are hired.

Vandalism, theft, abuse. Everybody has stories about public art theft around the world. It’s not new. It’s gotten worse and probably more sophisticated, certainly. The Parks Department’s tallied up about a million dollars, just over a million dollars of metal theft in the last six years. $215,000 of that was from fountains and monuments. That includes plaques and the likes from Women’s Leadership fountain and several others. They were pried right out of the concrete. The nozzles were stolen out of Fire Fighters fountain and several others.
Malicious mischief vandalism … people have knocked over the Harold Rice fountain twice in the last three years, or four years. Fortunately, it’s a stock statuary store concrete fountain. It’s pretty easy to replace.

On the right is one image of skateboard damage. Any wall or staircase, skateboarders are going to love it. They actually pry all the skate stoppers that have been put there … they pry them out of the concrete. There are websites on how to do that. That’s wax soaked into the concrete and has metal shavings in it as well.

Observation Park lion … he makes me sad. 1899 was a beautiful big carved lion … all this beautiful carving around him. He’s in the base of a 22′ high wall. You can see even in the original 1899 photograph, there’s already a little chip in the basin. By 1999 he was pretty much a ruin. People had thrown rocks at him, beat on him, clogged the pipes, pulled the pipes out, spray paint. Spray paint removal pretty much finished him off.

We were able to pull it out, do a major restoration, reproduce it in clay and then have it cast in cast stone. Then a new bowl was made. It looked really beautiful for a little while. Then people threw rocks at it again. You can stand on top of the wall a drop a rock down in to the bowl. That’s fun, apparent. He’s pretty chipped up and banged up again. The water’s also clogged up. The pipes are clogged. He makes me sad. I worked on that for 11 years. It took 2 years to thrash it again.

This one is interesting. In the circle you can see brown splotch on the floor of the fountain. This is downtown. That brown splotch is the staining left over from a chemical that was dumped into the water last fall before the fountain was drained. On the bottom is the brand new pump that was green about 2 months before that. The valve on the right is one of three that was rusted into a useless chunk of metal. This was probably caused by methamphetamine lab refuse that somebody dumped into the fountain.

I just include this … if any of you are working in public spaces, learn about meth by-product and what it looks, what it could look like and don’t touch it. Our guy was really lucky that he was able survive what he did cleaning this out. He could have hurt himself. I’m sure it wasn’t good for the pipes. This cost us about $12,000 in extra damage to replace and repair.

Graffiti vandalism is not new. You’ve all probably seen this in many forms. Eagle Scout fountain, this is the pink granite Night sculpture. She got extra lipstick and some toe nail polish courtesy of some tempera paint just a few weeks ago. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to wash out … most of it.

On the right, I put in this scout. He’s not a fountain. I’m sorry. He is an icon of Kansas City. When he had oil base paint dumped on him a few years ago we were very lucky that the Adopt a Monument sponsors his constant upkeep and care. He had been recently waxed. In case any of you haven’t heard, it’s a good thing to wax your bronze. That helped save him. Jonathan was able to come in a couple of weeks later and put on a new coat of wax and he was OK.

Happy face. He’s cute. It’s chalk on limestone. It actually came off pretty well. It says “Shop at Walmart” there on the bottom so I figure that’s where they got their chalk.

Public perceptions and attitudes, another sub category. Like I said, everybody wants fountains in their part of the city. Everybody wants fountain in their neighborhood or they want to be involved in a fountain. People love have fountains nearby. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about psychology of the attitudes and everything.

This may not sound relevant to the tangible conservation issues that you might deal with, but when you get a panic stricken called from somebody like me saying, “Something’s got to be fixed and it’s got to be done by such and such a date, and it’s a crisis and it’s an emergency.” This is kind of how that can happen.

I like this quote, “Water, like time, has the power to cleanse and heal. This memorial fountain stands as a symbol of that healing.” I think that just kind of indicates some of the power that people invest in the fountains. They get very attached to fountains. They often are fountains dedicated to a person or an event or a group of people. In this case, Vietnam Veterans. The main challenge here is living up to the expectations people have for that site. Of course a memorial site should be perfect all the time. People who are attached to it consider it disrespectful when it is not.

Another big emotional issue is weddings. People love to get married at fountains. That is a drop dead date you cannot change. If that fountain needs fixing, it’s got to be done by June 16th.

Fountain Days … this is a whole other issue. Neighborhood pride, neighborhood unity. Another big reason people like their fountains. The one on the bottom left, that’s Fountain Day and the dedication for the restored fountain. The neighborhood pushed very hard for that. They were very involved in it. It would not have happened without them. Of course, it had a very tight deadline.
One of the other things I wanted to mention there is, for a lot of our history, we’ve had to approach maintenance as a kind of crisis management thing. We’re trying to get ahead of that right now and set up a better system. We’ve reorganized our crew so we have a more dedicated crew to some of the fountain maintenance. Set up a little bit better long term planning, short term planning. A little bit more of a schedule. Traditionally, it’s been very much crisis management. Living up to these expectations that people have for various fountain, with every tight deadlines usually.

Another thing … this honestly, I have to say mystifies me. People love to see the fountain dyed colors. We have dyed the fountains all sorts of different colors for different requests. We’ve had requests to dye them for events. This is pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The whole month of October. The blue is for Royals Day … the opening day of the baseball team. We usually only dye 6 or 7 at a time. We recently had a request to dye them black. Which I hope was deemed infeasible. I’m not sure how that turned out.
One of the main challenges with this is when do you say no. Once you’ve started, how do you say no to the next group that wants to come do this. If we said yes to everybody, they’d be dyed all the time. Another challenge is how to achieve the right color. When they dyed them purple, it turned kind of gray in the foam so they weren’t happy.

I think the other challenge is how to get that color right. You can get it pink in the sprays but then you have this very shocking red in the bowls and the basins. That’s kind of jarring. We have a company that makes these dyes for us. They all assure us that there’s no harm to the fountain. Of course, then it’s removed with bleach and another chemical to neutralize the bleach. If anybody here has any ideas about ways this might be causing any harm to our fountains, I’d really like to talk to you.

Another big issue we have is swimming pools, hot tubs. Everybody thinks that the fountains are basically a free place to play. It’s a swimming pool, a hot tub, bath tub, play area. I did not take a picture of the guy bathing in this fountain. I thought that would be rude. You can use your imagination here, too. That little space between the columns where the water is cascading down, it’s a great spot for shampoo. He just dropped his clothes on the sidewalk and hopped in and lathered up and got out.

It’s not just the people who live in the park or who should know better but don’t. This is the Missouri Department of Tourism. They did this on purpose. They actually came out and had us turn the fountain back on. Which apparently somebody did. They ran this ad in a whole bunch of things. It just sort of reflects the attitude the fountains are kind of a play area for people.

I don’t know if I’ve run over but this is my last couple of slides. Just to illustrate one of our successes. We do occasionally have successes. At least to some degree. This is Women’s Leadership Fountain a few years ago when it was about 110 years old. It looked like this and it leaked and it was turned off and it was a mess. The entire walk, including the fountain, was restored.

A huge fund raising capital campaign was raised. We actually sold property to raise the funds for this. Spent about 3 million dollars. We were able to recreate the balustrades that had been missing for ages, from the old drawings which were in our archives. We do have wonderful achieve of old drawings. It is now again the beautiful north entrance to the Paseo from the north part of the city. It was a major project but we were finally able to get it all restored.

Of course, this is where the happy face was on the finial. Also, where the lights were stolen and it’s a very popular bath tub. But it’s still beautiful. The lights have all been replaced in the fountain and the lights around the fountain have been recreated. It’s our big success.

That’s my very quick overview of the major challenges that we have in the City of Fountains. Thank you for bearing with me.

Kate Garland: Thank you Jocelyn for a very interesting overview of fountains and their meaning in Kansas City and the kind of problems you run into when you’re city manager. I think part of the importance of this particular conference is going to be to work out how best we can deal with the problems and manage them in a more controlled way perhaps.
Does anybody have questions for Jocelyn?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: I didn’t have a clock so I don’t really know-

Kate Garland: You did a great job.

Speaker 3: I have a couple of questions. The fountains that you choose to be ice sculptures, how did you decide which ones that you were … Is there something about the fountain itself that lends itself to doing that? It’s less likely to be damaged by the ice or-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: No. I would say, first of all, mostly it’s a geo-political consideration. There’s one in the North Land. One in the old north east area, and one in the south part of the city. Just to spread them equally.

Speaker 3: Is that something that people ask for, that they-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: I think originally it probably was. Even the Children’s fountain with the little children on the pedestals. That was originally left on. It was doing a lot of damage to the pedestals. Which is still there. It hasn’t really been fixed, but at least they recognized that it was doing damage and they stopped doing that many years ago.
I think the Delbert Heff fountain, which is in the south on Meyer Boulevard, it has been very severely damaged by the ice. I’m kind of trying to lobby quietly to get that stopped. We don’t’ have that many freezing days in the winter where you really get wonderful ice sculptures. I think time passed, people talk about how it used to get a lot colder here in the winter. It’s not getting that cold anymore.
I think if we redesigned some of the elements around that fountain we might be able to have an overflow, like a swimming pool where the wave action could spill over. Something like that. Do something better to accommodate that. Right now, it’s just a vertical concrete wall and it’s just eaten away.
I can’t say that it’s because of the way that they’re designed that they were chosen. There is one, the Concourse fountain which is flat. It’s the jets that come up out of the pavement. That ice has infinite area to expand and keep moving and doesn’t do a lot of harm. When it melts, it soaks back through the grates and the drains.
Speaker 3: The American War Mothers, I noticed in one of the photographs that it had been surrounded by a grass lawn and you paved that over.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yes.

Speaker 3: What was the thought behind that?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: There were a couple of considerations. Partly, the mowing of that lawn was doing more damage to that wall. I didn’t even include mowers. Mowers are my nightmare. They bang into everything. They use sculptures as pivot points. They just hang around the corner. There are a lot of chips and damage that actually knocked some rocks out of that wall. Plus, it’s just a ridiculous place to have to go out and mow this one little tiny strip of grass in the middle of the street.
Also, I think it was causing some water issues with the ponding and the puddling and the grass was very uneven. When we paved it over, it turned out the street was just enough of a slope to match the curve line. It just drained very nicely all the way away from the fountain and away from that wall.

Speaker 3: It just made sense.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: It was just a little easier. A little less maintenance to take care of.

Speaker 3: My last question is in the areas where you’ve had metal theft, how do you handle that? Do you replace the plaque or-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Usually. Usually we would just … Some of the things that we’ve tried to do is not use bronze anymore wherever we possibly can. We’ve used a few other materials. Silex is an acrylic kind of compound that looks very much like stone. You can make it look really nice like granite. I haven’t tried it to make it look like bronze. I got some samples one time but we decided to go with a different material which was a thin sheet of aluminum that was printed to look like dark bronze with gold lettering. When that was mounted on top of an acrylic sheet it probably would have held up OK, except for the fact that it had to be done in two pieces because the bronze plaques we were replacing were 7′ long. They couldn’t roll it all out in one piece. To do those in bronze was going to be $75,000. There were four plaques. We did them this way hoping for the best. The heat immediately expanded the acrylic backing and the seam spread apart. I don’t consider that a great success. On the other hand, the text is there. People can read it. It looks fine from any distance. 5′ away you can’t really see it. I don’t’ think it’s a permanent solution.

Speaker 3: There’s not really a way to attach the plaques in the element so that they can’t-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: There are better ways and lessor better ways. It seems like the people that really want them will get them. Honestly, a lot of the things that have been stolen were easy. Some of the plaques, for instance the Benton plaque that was stolen, there were two on either side of a rock. When our guys went out to get the other one on the back side of the rock that wasn’t stolen, all he had to do was just pull it off. The mortar was 95 years old.
That’s one of my other missions. To have everything inspected more frequently and check. I tell all our maintenance guys, whenever you’re on park, just go tug on the plaque and see if it’s secure. A lot of things have been there for 80, 90, 100 years. It doesn’t take that long for mortar to fail.
Yet, more recently, things you can epoxy them down and use a lot better secure system.

Speaker 3: Just one last thought. I’m sure there’s no money for this, but do you ever work with community groups on education. I assume a lot of this vandalism is younger people and-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: I think one of the things the City’s tried to do is get after the recycling centers for paying people for this stuff. They passed some ordinances and things like that. It doesn’t seem to have slowed it down very much.

Speaker 3: Just in terms of kids, like the skateboarders, maybe the people putting lipstick and that sort of thing, any kind of educational efforts to-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: We do a lot of those kinds of things all the time. Community groups, meetings, church groups, things like that. I do a lot of talk. There’s just always more. Honestly, when I was doing some research on the skateboard issue, I was stunned at the stuff on the internet about how, “We have the right to skate wherever we want. The city is just being so mean to us. It’s not fair.” It’s like their God given right to skate on anything they want. That’s a difficult attitude to change. You really have to get in there.
There are even architects who are now on the flip side. Grew up as skateboarders and are now designing stuff on the internet saying, “I used to skate on things and now I wish people wouldn’t.” You just kind of have to grow into that. Some people-

Speaker 3: In other words, it’s called maturity.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Everybody doesn’t always come to the same conclusion on that sort of thing. We do put in skate stoppers. We’re going to do another whole onslaught of stuff. That fountain where that skate damage is is the one where we just got a large donation for. Fixing some of the skating damage is actually a big part of why they gave us the donation.

Speaker 3: That’s great. Thank you.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Anything else.

Speaker 4: Do you have a method in which you use to prioritize what restoration’s going to be next on the list. Be it restoring the art, restoring the workings of the fountains? What comes first? The art or-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: I have. As an art student, I prioritize the artwork. That’s the unique thing. You can buy a pump next year if you have to. It doesn’t matter. If the sculptures is damaged or the sculpture is lost, that’s not as easily replaced. Frequently isn’t replaceable at all. My priority is usually on protecting the sculpture or the unique aspects of the fountain.
That’s not always everybody else’s priority. Most people just want to be able to drive by and see that water on. We have this $250,000 pot that we share. It’s a little bit of a race to see who can spend it first. The fountains, the pumps, that’s what they are … they’re water. A lot of people just want the water on. They want to see it clear and they want to see it running.
Finding a small crack in the Volker fountain angel, nobody notices that. Getting that to be a priority is a little difficult. Does that answer that?

Speaker 4: Yeah. It does. Some of the fountains that I have [inaudible 00:43:40] the art is starting to be damaged. However, continuing running the pumps and motors and all goes back to what you had said earlier that water pressure is causing damage [inaudible 00:43:56] the water pressure is consistent, I’m causing more damage to the art than everything else. I need to fix the water portion and then I can take care of the art.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Sure.

Speaker 4: I guess I just look at it the other way.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: That’s true. I guess it depends on what’s causing the damage. If the functioning of the fountain is causing the damage to anything else, you’re right. That would have to be fixed first. If it’s just freezing and thawing and the ice and wind, I would probably try and take care of the sculpture first.
It’s not up to me frequently. A lot of the time it’s … that’s another political consideration, for instance. I might think that fountain X over here is the most urgent thing and it needs the most help. But that’s not the one that somebody donated money for. So, I go do the one that somebody donated funds for.
Seville Light, for instance. We’ve had a number of people with petitions. They really, really want us to fix that fountain but there’s no money. Of course, we have to go do the ones that we can afford to do. It’s curious, sometimes you think, why would they donate money to one fountain instead of another when the other one needs it more. That goes back to the emotional attachment people have to fountains and the groups that are there to support.
Obviously, the Veteran’s groups are there to support veteran’s fountain. Neighborhood groups will support a neighborhood fountain. They really won’t work very hard to support a fountain in another part of the city.
There’s a lot of that kind of jockeying.

Speaker 4: Is there a group within the city that goes to get these donations or how is that-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: We have an organization called The City of Fountains Foundation which has been a support organization for 40 years. We just had their 40th anniversary. That was the Fountain Festival that we just had. It was part of their celebration. They seized that opportunity to launch this big fund raising campaign.
Traditionally, they’ve been more of a moral support organization. The last few years they really tried to ramp up their financial support and their fund raising efforts. That’s been a really interesting trend and a really nice new development.
We also have the Adopt a Monument Group which is born out of Save Outdoor Sculpture inventory that was done in the early ’90’s. They recently merged together with the City of Fountains Foundation. So we have all of our monument conservation effort and fountain conservation effort in the same group right now. They were working together on all of that fund raising and the festival.
One of the things they’re doing all summer is they’re having … They’re calling a splash mob. Every so many weeks they’ll have a Saturday event at a fountain to have a press conference and raise money and talk about that fountain. They have some art students that have created a paint by numbers mural. A section of that will be at each of these fountain. People will color in that section that day. By the end of the summer, theoretically, that should be all assembled into a large mural. I think they’re going to put it up at the school or some place. That will be kind of fun.
There was another question over there I think.

Speaker 5: Yes. I found it intriguing that groups would want their fountains dyed. Can you elaborate a little more on how often that happens and what you’re perception is, long term, to the fountains?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Like I said, so far everybody has told me that it doesn’t cause any permanent damage.
Can you hear me if I just yell? Or should I go back over here.

Speaker 5: It’s a little better there.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: So far, nobody has really been able to show that it causes permanent damage. I’m not sure how carefully anybody’s really checked. Different groups will do annually. Sometimes it’s a one time thing. The Breast Cancer Awareness if every October. The Royals blue … I think that we do that every year but I’m not sure. Other groups, sometimes it’s just a one time event. Like they’re having a marathon race or something. Honestly I don’t even know who the purple was for. The black request was for a melanoma society. Their color is black. That was gross. Pardon my editorializing. I think that would look kind of apocalyptic. I kind of lobbied against it.
Yes.

Speaker 6: I know architectural a lot of times you’ll see colors from the light. If it were any way possible to shift people’s expectations into the evening or night, then you could use lighting and you can do anything with color.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yes. We actually are trying to do that with a couple of fountains. Obviously, the thing is you don’t get the color in the daytime. The J.C. Nichols fountain is one that we’ve looked at especially. That’s very popular. It’s always dyed. Whenever we dye the fountains, that’s one that’s always the key fountain.
We had to put in all new lighting not too long ago. We put in LED lighting with the plan that we could add gels to it and change the colors. The original lighting was all stolen. When we got the opportunity to put new lights back in, we actually could only put in half as many as we need. We still have to go back and add another whole slew of lights to that fountain. It’s very dark.
Changing the color of the fountain through the lights is definitely something we’ve looked out. It’s just that you can’t see it in the daytime and that’s what people are attached to right now. You’re right. It’s something that people could learn to like and learn to appreciate more.

Speaker 6: I also meant to ask, when you mentioned dying. At least it used to be … obviously I’m not involved with a lot of fountains … it used to be a very popular kind of vandalism to soak detergent and dye [inaudible 00:49:51]

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: It happens occasionally. honestly, i don’t see it as often. i think our maintenance guys probably see it and I don’t hear about it maybe. It does happen. Most of the soap in the fountains is there for bathing. People actually leave bars of soap on some fountains to come back and take a bath tomorrow.

Speaker 7: Is the water treated?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yes. The water is treated with a whole variety of chemicals. I’m not even going to try and tell you how they do it and what they do. I know when the dyes are put into the fountain then they have to put extra chlorine in. There’s always chlorine in the fountain. There’s other chemicals they use. I think muriatic acid is used … at least in the swimming pools.
The results of all those chemicals are not always completely successful. Sometimes the chlorine, for instance, we try to get away from ferrous metals. For while they used aluminum for some grates and things like that. Well, that doesn’t like chlorine at all. So the combinations of things have been a real issue.
You’ve got these guys going around in sort of a stop-gap mode trying to fix something fast. There’s a lot of band-aide work that gets done. The measuring and the exact proportions of things hasn’t always been monitored perfectly.
You had a question?

Speaker 8: I have the same question.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Oh, same question. OK.

Kate Garland: Jocelyn, can you remind us how many fountains you’re in charge of and how big your maintenance team is?
Jocelyn Ball-Edson: We have 47 fountains. Our maintenance team is 3 or 4 guys.

Kate Garland: And they do other things.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: And they do other things. We are reorganizing them. They’re out of our facility maintenance division. They take care of all of our buildings as well as other stuff. They’ve sort of tried to separate a slightly more dedicated crew just for the fountains and monuments. It’s not all settled yet. It’s a constant reorganization.
Speaker 9: And they’re under Parks and Rec?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: They’re in Parks and Recs. There are two fountains that are maintained by the City Hall General Services Division which are the City Hall Sea Horse Fountains and the Barney Ellis fountain at the Convention Center.

Speaker 10: Are your maintenance crew adding the chemicals and doing the-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yes.

Speaker 10: The chemistry?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: For the most part, yes. We have some maintenance contracts for a few things. There are a few fountains that have donated … somebody’s adopted it and they do all the maintenance. Like the Muse of Missouri fountain, Kemper fountain down town, that is adopted by the Kemper Family Trust and the Commerce Bank, which the Kemper family owns. They do all the maintenance on that. For the last 7 or 8 years they’ve taken that on. Which has really been a big help. They’ve done a really nice job. It’s just there’s so much more to do. They’re still incrementally attacking the different issues. They reworked a lot of the site and stone and the fountain bases and the lighting and all that. Now they’re working on the pedestal … on the sculpture which is about a 30′ tall bronze piece in the middle of the street. It’s a difficult site. It was going to be in my pictures but I thought I had to cut it because I didn’t have time.

Speaker 10: Is it divided up between the monuments and the fountains? Is it the mechanics that puts fountains into the Parks Department while the monuments or statues are-

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: We take care of all of the monuments, too. All of the historic … anything historic is all in Parks Department. The new pieces … when we get a new piece of art that usually comes through the Public Art Commission. They’re not necessarily on Park property. Sometimes they’ll be in different city buildings around the city. Right now we’re working on a combines project with the new art and it will be at Firefighters Memorial Fountain, which is a very passionately guarded fountain, of course. The firefighters are very involved. It’s got two really nice sculpture that are already very popular. Putting in a new piece of art there is kind of an interesting, sensitive subject. We’re working with the Public Art Commissioner and the Public Art administrator on that, as well as the original artist and the new artist. And the Fire Department.

Speaker 10: Is this a new division of responsibility or has it always been there?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: I think it’s always … it goes back a number of years. At least 30 years or 40 years. I’m not sure … before that, the Parks Department was a separate … little bit different organization. The city has a slightly different organization than most cities where the Parks Department is slightly autonomous from the rest of the city government. Certainly we still answer to the City Council and the Mayor, but we also have our own Parks Commission. For instance, when I order contract, I don’t go to City Council, I go to Parks Commission. The Parks Commission is appointed by the Mayor so there is still a link all the way through, but we’re not like most of the other departments of the city. Which are all within what we call “the city”. I hope that helps.
Speaker 11: How good is your record keeping in terms of just knowing what … on any regular maintenance cycle. Is there standard operating procedure that on Tuesdays you do this?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: No.

Kate Garland: Crisis management.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yeah. Crisis management. Actually, that is one of the things the new guy in charge of the maintenance division is … he’s just gotten a whole new computer program set up and he’s getting that all under way now to get a more routine plan for when this is added and when that was done. Better record keeping procedure. We have records of what was done here and what was done there, but it’s all individually organized. You have to know which fountain you’re looking for, go look in that file and find that file.
I’ve been trying to get some more of a system like that for the monument conservation and the sculpture conservation. The maintenance division is setting that up right now for the tangible maintenance issues. When are they adding chlorine and how much and that kind of stuff. I think that traditionally, there wasn’t a lot of that.
The Parks Department used to be … back in the ’70’s and ’80’s it was an independent group out there doing what they could do. Keeping stuff going. Not a huge amount of inter-dependent organization. It has changed a lot in the last 10-15 years. We had a lot of records, for instance, in one of the maintenance buildings which burned down. Some of that stuff was lost. Now, with the computers and everything, we can keep it in more locations. Hopefully we won’t have that problem again.
Speaker 12: One question. Is the water quality in the fountains determined by health department regulations within the city? In other words, are they … if you make the assumption that you can bathe or drink it [inaudible 00:57:19] contact dermatitis or whatever, is the addition of the chlorine to suppress bacteria levels?
Jocelyn Ball-Edson: There is not a specific set of guideline levels that they have to attain at all times like a swimming pool. Swimming pools have much stricter guidelines. We have started building, in the last 10 years or so, spray grounds for kids to play in. Hopefully, trying to lure some of those kids out of the fountains and get them to go the the playgrounds and play in those. Those are recirculating systems with really complicated chemical balancing technology. They are also monitored at least several times a day. They are tested and have all kinds of nifty stuff. They cost a fortune to build.
We don’t have that on the fountains. The fountains are not … there’s no lifeguard on duty. There’s signs posted everywhere. Please don’t play in the fountain. No lifeguard. They’re not tested for that kind of thing. They are trying to keep the water clear and trying to keep it safe. When somebody leaves things in the fountain that really should not ever be in a fountain, they drain it and clean it out and try to start it up again. That happens a lot. It didn’t go into some of the really disgusting things that happen in fountains. I’ll let you imagine that, too.

Speaker 13: Is it against city ordinance to be in fountains?

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Sure.

Speaker 13: Just checking.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: It’s against the ordinance to drive on the lawn, too. Happens all the time. But yeah, it is. The police will shoo them out. When the police leave, they will

Speaker 13: Right back in.

Jocelyn Ball-Edson: Yeah. Right back.
Do you have a question back there?
No?
Anything else?
OK. Well, I’ll be around if you have any other questions. Thanks.

Kate Garland: Thanks again Jocelyn. Really appreciated your discussion of your frustrations and your successes. Congratulations.

 

Challenges of Maintaining the Fountains of “The City of Fountains” – Kansas City by Jocelyn Ball-Edson

Jocelyn will discuss the wide range of challenges encountered in maintaining and preserving a collection of nearly 50 public fountains and over 60 other monuments and sculptures. Topics include vandalism, weather, budgets and public perception, illustrated with rarely seen images of the inner workings of pump vaults and mechanical rooms, as well as details of fountain structures and sculptures.

Speaker Bio

Jocelyn Ball-Edson, ASLA, has been a Landscape Architect with Kansas City, Missouri Parks and Recreation Department since 1995. In addition to designing and managing construction of various park improvements, for the last 10 years she has managed fountain and monument restoration projects ranging from cleaning and conservation of small bronze plaques to the complete restoration of the oldest fountain in Kansas City. She has worked with professional conservators on over 60 monuments, sculptures and fountains throughout the City. Born and raised in California, Jocelyn studied art at UCLA and has Bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and landscape architecture from Rhode Island School of Design.

Share →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>