News

Designs aim to return Nanaimo's Italian fountain to former glory

Richard Harding, city director of parks, recreation and environment, checks over artist renditions and architectural diagrams for renovations to the Italian fountain in downtown Nanaimo. The restoration project is now awaiting funding to move forward. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Richard Harding, city director of parks, recreation and environment, checks over artist renditions and architectural diagrams for renovations to the Italian fountain in downtown Nanaimo. The restoration project is now awaiting funding to move forward.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

After months of waiting, advocates will soon see the city’s plan for restoring the Nanaimo Centennial Fountain.

Nanaimo city officials recently received an engineering report with the details and designs to return the downtown fountain to its former glory.

The centennial fountain at Port Place Shopping Centre, with its hand-carved salmon and colourful tile work, was crafted by volunteers and given to the city to mark the province’s centennial birthday just over 50 years ago. It has become a heritage site and Nanaimo’s only community-built fountain, but it’s now falling apart.

The concrete wall is starting to crumble, electrical work has corroded and the pumps have begun to fail. The spray is now more of a bubble than an arch and the underwater lighting no longer works.

Advocates blamed the city for not properly taking care of the centennial gift but have offered to help raise the money needed to get repairs done. They have been waiting since September for a tender-ready scope of work to show potential donors and said the progress has been frustrating.

City officials received the report from Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers last Friday and Richard Harding, the city’s director of parks, recreation and environment, said the package will be taken to those involved with the project “right away.”

Staff members are also working on potential costs, based on the latest plan.

Early estimates had pegged the facelift at $250,000 – more than double the initial $100,000 the city budgeted for repairs.

City staff members have always acknowledged the potential need for community fundraising to help get the fountain on the road to recovery.

“We do have to do something,” said Harding. “It needs upgrading just for regular maintenance. So that’s what we budgeted for ... get to the point where its over top [of that] and actually enhanced and that’s where we need to work with groups on fundraising ideas.”

The latest designs for the fountain restoration shows the water feature could undergo changes ranging from the depth of the pool to a more striking water display with arches of water and underwater lights.

Bob Browett, the city’s utilities supervisor for parks, said the three-feet deep pool presents a public safety concern and will be altered to carry only an inch of water. There will also be underwater lights and a series of 30 spray nozzles, up from four, so water will shoot up in six and three feet arches.

City staff members have also proposed a $1,500 temporary fix, that would see them cut out a tiled section of the spillway so employees can access the maintenance chamber more safely. The work will eventually be repaired once the long-term restoration gets underway.

The transformation will keep the granite, salmon and mosaics, but help the fountain look smart and operate more efficiently, Browett said.

“You are going to see the Italian fountain come back to life again,” he said. “It was quite spectacular in its day and we are going to try to make it fairly similar.”

The Italian community and fountain advocates Sandra Larocque and Blake McGuffie have been waiting for the city to spell out the work needed. The completion of a tender package is the first sign of progress, according to Larocque, who said until now she has heard “sweet nothing” from the city.

“This is great news they actually want to do something,” she said, “I’ve been waiting a long time and have been very frustrated.”

McGuffie had also told the Nanaimo Bulletin he was feeling frustrated with the headway. He was picking up the engineering report from the city Wednesday, but didn’t want to comment about whether it was a positive development until he had seen the scope of work.

“I think simply we now have the information available, but I haven’t had an opportunity to review it yet,” he said.

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