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$1.9 million to fix fountain, questioned

Artist's son questions $1.9 million price tag to fix Liberty Park fountain

By Katie McKellar | Deseret News

When Sam Goldsmith — the son of one of the artists who designed the now shut-off Seven Canyons Fountain in Liberty Park — learned the city estimated it would need more than $1.9 million to fix the 24-year-old fountain, he raised an eyebrow.

Nearly $2 million seemed a steep price to pay to fix the fountain's water quality and safety issues.

So he began digging, and he was taken aback when he found that estimate would pay for a complete demolition and redesign of his father's and other's work.

Earlier Wednesday, Goldsmith's father, Stephen Goldsmith, said it would be "disheartening" if the entire fountain is demolished and rebuilt, noting that the stones for each of the different canyon features were carefully taken from the actual seven canyons.

"Those are real stones, from real places, lovingly and carefully set," he said. "It wasn't meant to be a Disneyland water feature. It was done as lovingly as we possibly could, and if that is removed that would make all of the design team extremely sad."

The fountain was built in 1993 as an interactive work of art to recreate Salt Lake's seven canyons and waterways — City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys, East Mill Creek, and the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. But city officials didn't open the fountain this summer because they said it needed upgrades to address health and safety concerns, and they didn't have the funds to pay for them.

Those needed upgrades? An ultraviolet sanitation system, a shallower splash zone to prevent drowning and improvement to fountain edges to prevent mud falling into the water, city officials said in a May press release.

But when Sam Goldsmith, who was interested in helping raise money to re-open his father's work of art, began looking into the $1.9 million price tag, he learned city officials based that price off of one estimate from one pool contractor — who would also "tear out all of the existing water features, concrete, walkways, landscaping rocks, boulders and features" to bring it into current building code compliance for interactive water features, according to that May 1 estimate from CEM Aquatics.

Goldsmith was puzzled because city officials hadn't publicly said anything about demolishing and rebuilding the fountain.

In the Liberty Wells Community Council meeting at Tracy Aviary Wednesday night — where the city's director of parks and public lands, Kirsten Riker, was scheduled to update the neighborhood on the status of the fountain — he questioned why the city didn't seek another estimate or be more transparent about how the $1.9 million would also include essentially rebuilding the entire fountain.

Goldsmith said he believes the issues could be addressed with $200,000 to $300,000, based off of a proposal he made in collaboration with a Salt Lake City architecture firm, to address the health and safety concerns city officials initially outlined. He said the fountain could be "grandfathered" in, so it doesn't necessarily need to follow current building code requirements.

Goldsmith is also willing to help raise the funds to cover the design and construction.

"It doesn't have to be demolished," Goldsmith said. "It would be a real tragedy. It's a really iconic thing for Salt Lake City."

In an interview Wednesday night, Riker noted that the $1.9 million was only a rough estimate from one contractor to get a "ballpark" of what the project would cost.

"We don't have a plan to tear it out or redo it. We just want to make it safe," she said, noting that's why she came to the Liberty Wells meeting — to gather input. "There is not a plan at this point. We want to explore our options."

Riker said she's "absolutely" open to exploring Goldsmith's proposal.

"I haven't been given that (estimate) by anyone who's a builder or a designer, but I'm happy to look at any sort of options," she said. "We're interested in the least expensive possible way to restore the fountain. We would love to have a cheaper way to make this a safe place for everyone in the community to use."

Elizabeth Blackner, who was project manager for the fountain alongside her father and architect, Boyd Blackner, said she hopes the city takes the "simpler, less expensive solution" that addresses safety and health concerns but also "retains the artistic value" of the fountain.

"Nothing exactly like this exists anywhere," Blackner said. "It explains the unique hydrology of our area. Generations of children and families and friends have enjoyed it. It's just painfully sad to see it closed down and threatened."

But at least one Liberty Wells resident, Brita Manzo, said she wouldn't mind a redesigned fountain because she's "one of those moms" that doesn't let her kids climb on the fountains jagged rocks out of fear they could be injured.

"I'd actually love something new," she said. "I'm fine with the $2 million. I think we should spend the money."