Heritage fountain worth investment

The Italian fountain represents a significant, one-of-a-kind piece of cultural heritage.

By investing in the restoration of Nanaimo’s Italian fountain, the city would be putting money where its mouth is.

Nanaimo city staff members are looking into design plans to restore the centennial fountain to its former glory, but say there isn’t enough funding committed yet to do the work. They anticipate needing public donations to put the water feature on the path to recovery.

More than 50 years after the city took custody of the community-built fountain, it has fallen into disrepair. The concrete wall has started to crumble, electrical work is corroded, pumps have failed and underwater lights no longer work.

The city considered taking out the fountain from the park at Port Place shopping centre – but opted to rehabilitate it because of the heritage value.

It’s a good choice, especially in the wake of the city’s new draft cultural plan.

The City of Nanaimo recently released a plan to enrich and preserve arts and culture, recognizing the sector is key to building pride of place and momentum in the local economy.

The Italian fountain represents a significant, one-of-a-kind piece of cultural heritage – and to tear it out or fail to invest in its rehabilitation would mean the city isn’t acting on the goals of its own plan.

Fifty-five years ago more than 150 volunteers from the Italian community came together to build the centennial fountain in celebration of the province’s 100th birthday. It would take five years for the fountain to be ready to gift to the city. In the meantime, the Italian community held fundraising picnics, collected donations and solicited local businesses for supplies to build the hand-crafted water feature. They quarried their own rock from Yellow Point, carved the fish and designed a colourful mosaic with tile imported from Mexico.

The Italian community gave a gift of labour and public artwork to better Nanaimo. Today, the fountain is considered a one-of-a-kind water feature and local artifact. It symbolizes everything we want to conserve.

But according to Ian Blackwood, the city’s manager of facility maintenance and construction, without repairs soon, the fountain will no longer run because “everything is so corroded.”

The laundry list of mechanical, electrical and esthetic issues presents an opportunity for the city to follow through on its cultural plan by investing in a piece of Nanaimo’s cultural heritage. And it should invest, because until now it appears that the municipality has dropped the ball on maintaining the centennial fountain. It hasn’t reached this state of disrepair because of age alone.

As a cultural resource, the city should have done more to ensure it remained structurally sound. If the city had invested in annual upkeep, like fixing failed pumps or protecting electrical work, it wouldn’t have reached a state of being such a maintenance headache, city staff members considered removing it entirely. At the very least, if the municipality recognized the fountain was starting to fail because of poor past upkeep or age, it should have planned to set money aside to do future upgrades. There was reportedly $15,000 slated for fountain work, which was used to do the study and design work for rehabilitation. Early estimates to rehabilitate the fountain is pegged at $250,000.

Moving forward, let’s not only rally donations to save a local landmark, but see the city carry out some of the goals of its budding cultural plan by funding a good portion of the project. It’s important that city officials show they’re prepared to act on their cultural strategy – and for residents to ensure that they do.