Sandra Larocque checks out the slime-covered mosaic of the Italian Fountain in downtown Nanaimo. The fountain her father

Sandra Larocque checks out the slime-covered mosaic of the Italian Fountain in downtown Nanaimo. The fountain her father

Help needed to refurbish downtown Nanaimo fountain

NANAIMO – Rehabilitation of the Nanaimo Centennial Fountain is being planned but will need community donations to make it happen.

Just over 50 years ago the Nanaimo Centennial Fountain was a community showpiece, carefully hand-crafted by the Italian community. Now it breaks Sandra Larocque’s heart to look at it.

“The fountain is not spectacular, but it used to be. It was really, really… spectacular,” said Larocque, a long-time resident. “My dad actually helped a little with [building] it. He was really proud, as were many Italians.”

The water fountain has been deteriorating in front of the Port Place Shopping Centre, but with community help it could soon be restored to its former glory, city staff members say.

The water feature with it’s hand-carved salmon and colourful tile work is considered a local heritage site. Created by more than 150 volunteers as a legacy project for the province’s 100th birthday, it remains the only community-built  fountain in the Harbour City – but  it’s falling apart.

Fountain advocates blame the city for not properly taking care of the centennial gift. But Ian Blackwood, the city’s manager of facility maintenance and construction, said it has just aged to the point where regular maintenance isn’t enough. The concrete wall is starting to crumble, electrical work has corroded and the pumps have started to fail. The spray is now more of a bubble than an arch and the underwater lighting no longer works.

City staff members have been discussing what to do with the structure, including taking it out of the park. They opted to rehabilitate because of the fountain’s heritage value and hired Read Jones Christofferson Consulting Engineers to do a remediation plan.

Early estimates peg the facelift at $250,000 and with no adequate budget set aside, city staff members anticipate it will need the help of corporate and community donations to put the fountain on the path to recovery.

“Basically if we don’t do something soon, we are not going to see anything run in that fountain, everything is so corroded,” Blackwood said.

City staff members aim to restore the fountain’s original spray pattern and make it easier to maintain. But Blackwood said it will be a complicated project with a laundry list of issues of fix, from the electrical and mechanical components to run the fountain to remediation of a crumbling concrete wall. The city would also need to restore lighting, lower the depth of the pool for public safety and build an outer pump chamber that employees could better access. The pumps are presently in a crawl space beneath the fountain.

Consultants are still working on designs and final cost estimates, but Chris Sholberg, the city’s community and heritage planner, said the challenge will be finding the money to make the project happen. The idea is to get community groups and corporations to help, he said.

Longtime residents and community advocates Blake McGuffie and Larocque both want to see the fountain returned to its original glory and are prepared to help fundraising efforts. But the duo are also critical of the city for allowing the fountain to reach a state of disrepair. It was gifted to the  municipality in 1961.

“It was absolutely spectacular and like anything else when the lights and plumbing is under water, it rusts out and needs to be maintained and literally the city never did,”  McGuffie said. “The city has fallen down in my view, very badly, in not keeping it operating better than it is.”

McGuffie also believes the Italians were ‘a little negligent’ when it came to championing the fountain.

But Larocque, a member of the Italian community, said the Italians “shouldn’t have to babysit the fountain forever.”

The consultants’ report on the fountain is expected in three weeks.