Kokua Line: Dillingham Fountain needs expensive electrical overhaul
Question: The Dillingham Fountain at Kapiolani Park is empty and idle, and has been this way for several months now. What is the problem?
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Question: The Dillingham Fountain at Kapiolani Park is empty and idle, and has been this way for several months now. What is the problem? When can we expect the fountain to be up and running again? For years now the fountain appears to have had reliability issues. It runs perhaps half the time, and when it is down for maintenance and/or repairs, the downtime always lasts not days, but weeks and often months. Why is it so difficult to keep this popular tourist attraction operational?
Answer: You are one of numerous readers asking, some of whom cite the chronically malfunctioning water feature as an example of what can happen when the city accepts a gift without insisting that donors also pay for upkeep.
The circular fountain, in the Kapiolani Park traffic circle opposite the Elks Club, was dedicated in 1967 to the memory of Louise G. Dillingham, who had served on the Department of Parks and Recreation board and and its predecessors from 1931 until 1964. It was given to the city by the Walter and Louise Dillingham Foundation, which funded its construction but not its operation.
The fountain is designed to have two tiers of water arching inward, while a center jet shoots water straight up, and is a popular photo backdrop when operational. By 1969 it had been shut off at least once to fix leaks, with the fact that a precast limestone veneer had been installed over an existing, simpler fountain structure cited as a source of the problem.
It was turned back on after those early problems, but newspaper reports over the next 50 years chronicle a string of shutdowns and repairs. Apparent structural flaws, errant materials, vandalism and normal wear and tear all took a toll.
As for its current status, here’s an update from Nathan Serota, spokesman for the parks department:
“Currently we are determining the best course of action to get the Dillingham Fountain operational.
“Following an assessment of the fountain, city electricians believe the entire electrical system will likely need to be replaced. Simple repairs will not suffice. There is significant damage to the pump room, including within the electric vault. Because of these safety hazards, Hawaiian Electric has removed the two meters servicing the fountain.
“An initial cost estimate to replace the electrical system is $300,000.
“We fully understand that Dillingham Fountain is an iconic fountain, and we are working diligently to get it running again for the enjoyment of our residents and visitors.”
Other readers noted that decorative fountains (as well as some city swimming pools) commonly have maintenance problems. Since the playground proposed for Ala Moana Regional Park is designed to have a water feature known as a “splash pad,” they wanted to know whether the nonprofit group that is raising money to build the playground has committed to maintaining the site over the long term. The answer at this point is no.
“Based on preliminary discussions with the nonprofit, Pa‘ani Kakou’s gift to the city is for the design and construction of the inclusive playground, as well as a new comfort station, concession, and a possible work station area for park rangers and police to use,” said Michele Nekota, director of the parks department. “Proceeds from the concession can be used to help maintain the restroom, playground equipment and water features. However, the city will be responsible for the overall general maintenance of the facility. The design of the playground is conceptual and not final, therefore, details of the maintenance and operations of the facility will still need to be formalized.”
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.