To city, a real turnoff
Grand Junction officials close kids’ fountain on Main Street
There will be no more splashing in Grand Junction’s popular downtown fountain.
Parents holding hands of small tykes dressed in swimsuits and smelling like sunscreen arrived all day Tuesday at the Main Street splash pad to find the pavement dry and barricades up. A sign invited people to use the splash pad at Lincoln Park Moyer Pool for free.
“Is it closed? Oh no!,” one parent said.
“I’m sorry,” another mom said shortly after reading the notice, kneeling down to get eye level with her 2-year-old son.
A couple children looked distraught being led away, and some peered through the temporary fence, rattling the bars.
The city posted workers at the downtown fountain site all day Tuesday to explain the closure. The fountain was dry Tuesday, but is expected to be on again starting today, yet with the fences up.
City officials at the tail end of a Monday night meeting decided to shut down the fountain Tuesday, to fend off possible water safety hazards and future liabilities. Ever since the interactive waterworks was installed in 2011 with the Main Street remodel, city officials have worked to keep the water clean enough for use by a burgeoning number of children and families.
Officials first limited hours of use and closed the fountain a few times last year because E. coli was present in the recycled, chlorinated water. The splash pad will now be off-limits to kids playing in it, but soon the city will place a short wrought iron fence around the feature so at least people can watch the water.
“In the design phase, it was never intended for this intensity of use,” said Rob Schoeber, Grand Junction’s director of parks and recreation. “It’s a lot more than we figured. It’s been a challenge for these businesses.”
Dogs and vagrants
On just about any sweltering summer day, children and families gather around the fountain on Main Street near the corner of Fifth Street. City officials said business owners are upset when children splay out on towels in the middle of the sidewalk or lean up against windows to get warm. Others are critical when parents gather under nearby business awnings and block entrances while clustering around doorways trying to stay in the shade.
City officials worry when they see children playing in the water without swim diapers, they cringe hearing reports of children drinking the water, and they frown upon dogs getting in the water. People have reported seeing vagrants cleaning up in the fountain, and officials even worry about bird droppings getting in the water from their perch overhead in a sprawling sycamore tree.
“We’re concerned with what this can become,” City Manager Rich Englehart said, citing potential city liability issues including a lawsuit if a child gets sick from ingesting tainted water.
Schoeber said he asked some parents about why they frequent the splash pad with their children and most reported they came because the fountain was free. The area has become a destination for families, one family saying they traveled from out of town to come to the fountain. Schoeber said the fountain was created as something people could dash through, not to entertain throngs of children, and sometimes day care classes, who are often attracted to the site to camp and play for hours. People have reported seeing up to 60 parents and children at the corner fountain at one time.
City workers currently monitor the water three times a day to keep it safe, a sharp uptick in maintenance in the fountain’s three-year run.
“It’s become a long-term recreational activity for kids,” Schoeber said.
Schoeber added that splash pads and water features in general are a priority for the city and likely will be included in new construction at city parks, for example at a future possible recreation center at Matchett Park.
Some families who arrived at the downtown fountain to find it closed Tuesday were saddened or shocked, but took the city up on its offer and were seen later in the day with their kids playing for free in Lincoln Park Pool’s splash pad.
Children under age 12 can use the Lincoln Park splash pad for free throughout the summer and parents can also get in for free. Users of only the splash pad are directed to use the public restrooms at Lincoln Park, not the facilities at the swimming pool complex.
Pete Ashman, recreation coordinator for Grand Junction, said water quality is much more regulated at Lincoln Park’s splash pad than at the downtown fountain.
“This was designed for kids to play in,” he said, motioning to the various plastic animals that spit out water and several water arrays that cascade onto the concrete.
Water in the Lincoln Park splash pad is chlorinated, filtered and treated to maintain pH balance, Ashman said. After water leaves the splash pad it is filtered again before going back into the main pools.
“Is it that much cleaner? Yeah, quite a bit,” Ashman said.
Although some businesses may be relieved for customers not to have to step over people while trying to get in and out of their front doors, other merchants benefited from the influx of families being downtown.
More than a few children who were denied a chance to frolic in the water on Tuesday pressed their parents for candy and ice cream. Gelato Junction, 449 Main St., with its beckoning replica of a larger-than-life ice cream cone, is located right across the street, and Candytime Shoppe, 500 Main St., is two doors down from the fountain.
Jane Panter, an employee of Candytime Shoppe, said she thought the business and others nearby that sell treats or lunch would suffer a bit without all the children.
Although the candy shop posts a sign stating, “No wet people,” working with that problem “is doable,” she said.
Panter wondered why there wasn’t a public hearing or even any advance notice on the fountain closure.
“What will they do during Farmers Market? People bring their kids down here and let them play there,” she said. “I don’t think it’s right. I would love to see them keep it open. There’s got to be some kind of answer.”