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Long-dry Mayors’ Discovery Park fountain could be restored or repurposed

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La Cañada Parks and Recreation commissioners are considering the fate of a fountain at Mayors’ Discovery Park that has been inoperable since 2014. Options include repairing and restoring the fountain or using the structure for drought-tolerant landscaping.
(Sara Cardine / La Cañada Valley Sun)

La Cañada city officials are considering the fate of a large fountain at Mayor’s Discovery Park that since its installation in 2005 has been loved, well used, repeatedly broken and, finally, permanently disabled.

Once a destination for families seeking a reprieve from summertime heat, the fountain went dry in 2014 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and prohibited certain water uses, including non-recirculating decorative fountains.

The structure — created alongside the rest of the park by local landscape designer Ronnie Swire Siegel — was turned off and stayed off, even after Brown’s executive order was lifted in April 2017.

The Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed four options during a Sept. 11 meeting: converting the fountain into a decorative planter, creating a demonstration garden to impart water-wise tips, turning it into an art piece or leaving it empty.

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Several commissioners favored a fifth choice — restoring it as a fully functioning water fountain.

“When the park opened, I’d take my son. He loved to play in the water,” said Commissioner Charlie Kamar. “It’s a beautiful piece of art. I’d love to see it back running.”

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The fountain at Mayors’ Discovery Park in La Cañada uses low-relief ceramic sculptures created by local ceramics students to entice children to play and imagine themselves in a marine environment.
(Sara Cardine / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Commission Chair Jim Kambe said a restored water feature would dampen ambient noise from the adjacent Glendale (2) Freeway. The park is tucked behind its parking lot at 1800 Foothill Blvd., next to an on-ramp to the freeway.

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If history is a teacher, however, turning the water back on could present logistical problems, according to Asst. City Manager Carl Alameda.

A broad and shallow structure lined in ceramic tiles and low-relief sculptures created by Community Center ceramics students, the fountain frequently beckoned children past the point of safety. On a hot day, kids would walk and even jump in the fountain, Alameda said.

The city posted signs beseeching parents not to let kids play inside the fountain. They did little good.

“I got calls 10 years ago from people saying why don’t we have a lifeguard on duty,” Alameda said. “It was a call I received at least once a month during the summer months.”

No injuries were ever reported, but the risk was ever-present.

Furthermore, in the course of their play, tots frequently tossed sand from a nearby pit into the water. The mess clogged the fountain’s pump and pipes, racking up plumbing costs.

“It got to the point where we were repairing the pump almost monthly,” Alameda said. “It became pretty cost prohibitive.”

Alameda said water conservation grants might be available to repurpose the fountain as a drought-tolerant landscaping centerpiece. After all, Caltrans grants helped secure the land for Mayors’ Discovery Park, hence its transportation theme.

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Commissioner Marija Kristich Decker said she liked the notion of restoring the fountain but also supported a landscaped option or replacing it with community garden beds.

In an interview this week with the Valley Sun, designer Siegel said the fountain was built with children’s discovery in mind and enhanced by the ceramics.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to make this into a planter — you’d be covering up all the artwork with soil,” Siegel said.

A drier alternative, she added, might involve adding more tile-work and turning the fountain into an eye-catching structure on which people could recreate. Siegel said she’d donate her time to help the city brainstorm ideas.

Commissioners requested rough cost estimates for fixing and restoring the fountain as well as designing a new landscaped feature. The matter will be reconsidered at a future meeting.

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