A decision on how to proceed with repairs to the iconic watery art display known as the ellipse at The Fountains at Waterway Square in The Woodlands is on hold pending further examination of the structure.
During the July 25 meeting of The Woodlands Township, board members were given an update on the project’s status by Chris Nunes, director of the township’s parks and recreation department, including a list of three possible repair options ranging in both cost and scope of repairs and parts proposed by engineers.
After hearing the report and engaging in discussion on the issue, the board agreed to table the issue to a future meeting.
“The fountains at Waterway Square, they were originally installed in 2008 and have served as a focal point for Town Center and Waterway Square for countless events that the community holds,” Nunes said. “In February 2018, the board received a report on the fountains, and it was reported we would need about $55,000 in repairs because there were cracks in the slab.”
Workers began to repair the fountain in February under consultation from the original contractor — a firm called Fountain Works — but the initial work uncovered more serious structural issues, Nunes added.
“We found that the problem was larger than we originally anticipated, due to some of the construction,” Nunes said. “This is not the first time the fountain (has malfunctioned), and by fountain, I mean the ellipse. There are really technically four fountains there. The water wall, the two side staircases, as well as the ‘Grandma’s Purse,’ and of the course the ellipse, those are separate functions. The other fountains are currently working except the ellipse.”
Nunes provided the detailed report, which had several options including a low-cost repair of more than $212,000 that would take the shortest amount of time but which would re-use existing, 10-year old equipment; a second option that would cost more than $355,000 and also involve using 10-year old existing equipment; the third option costs more than $421,000 and would include completely new equipment and a computer program to duplicate the current “dancing” water pattern and music that is syncronized with the spurts.
The Fountains at Waterway Square were originally constructed in 2008 by officials from the Woodlands Land Development Company at a cost of about $5 million. Township officials retained professional engineering firms in April to help work on a repair plan and manage construction work. Of the two firms — HDR and Moffat & Nichol — only Moffat & Nichol was recommended to guide the repair process, which is estimated to take at least 14 weeks.
The fountain first malfunctioned in 2010, Nunes said, and due to a variety of issues related to the structural issues within the fountain and the proprietary nature of the current computer program running the music and watery spurts, township staff and engineers were recommending the third option for repairs.
Township board member Bruce Rieser said he wasn’t in favor of short term repairs that may be needed to re-done in the near future.
“Option 1 in my view is a non-starter. We’ve done that once before, we’ll be right back in the same spot again before very long,” Rieser said. “It’s a little cheaper, but if you do it three times it isn’t cheaper.”
Township Chairman Gordy Bunch asked Nunes if there is a more simple operating system that could be installed that it isn’t so expensive to repair.
“Has any thought been given to a simpler, less complicated water feature that doesn’t have that kind of challenge,” Bunch said. “I was in Rome last week, and amazingly they have 2,000 year old water fountains that haven’t required much maintenance in 2,000 years. The Trevi Fountain is still there and it is beautiful. Is there any alternative water feature designs that wouldn’t require as much upkeep that might be a better longer term solution?”
Nunes said the challenge is with the computer system, which is a proprietary program owned by a business in Canada.
“You can do a myriad of things with fountains. You can have very low tech or very high tech. This is on the aspect of higher tech, that can be programmed with many different songs. It is about what type of end-user experience you want,” Nunes said. “If this is an open-source system, then multiple companies, they would have access to that software or that hardware and program as needed.”
Rieser made the original motion to table the item, which was seconded by board member John McMullan. The item will likely be scheduled for a future meeting in August.
“I’d like you to do a little more work and tell me how much this is the structural repair and how much is the fountain itself,” Rieser said. “I’d like to see that and talk about this and explore if there might be a less tech-whiz solution to get the cost down.”