June 15, 2001

To: Ms. Benetti, Mayor's Office
Andrew Taylor, Miller Park Advisory Council

Subject: Scheduling the Ron K. Bills Fountain

This Spring there was much confusion and consternation around the scheduling of the Ron K. Bills Fountain. I thought that these issues were put to rest last Fall when I met with several Parks Dept. representatives, including Ed Jackson, my Co-manager from the Parks Dept. for the project.

At that time it was determined that a start-up date be selected for sometime in late April. Since Ron Bill's birthday was April 5th, it was deemed appropriate that such a significant date should be honored to start the operation of the main fountain. It is, after all a memorial fountain, and the difference of a couple of weeks seems insignificant as compared to the meaning of the birth date.

It is important to recognize the different aspects of the fountain. There is the main fountain and the central fountain bubbler. These distinctions were discussed, verified and approved at numerous CORE meetings in the Parks Dept. approval process.

Central fountain bubbler: This portion of the fountain serves several distinct purposes. The first is symbolic. It is the waters of life, the eternal flow of energy, the recurrence of memory. It is not only the sight but the sound of water that affects us, whether we are passersby by or participants in play. A fountain without water flowing is a very sad thing. This fountain is to evoke the joy of Ron's life, not his death.

The central bubbler is on its own pump and can be run either with the main pump or alone. It was designed so that when the main fountain was off, it would provide activity, both in the visual and acoustical play of the water and the people it naturally gathers. It has been my fear that with the fountain dry for long periods of time it may invite unwanted activity. This could take the form of vandalism and graffiti. It has been my observation that even with a small amount of water flowing, the fountain gathers and amazing assortment of people who otherwise simply pass through when it is dry.

The central bubbler is the filter system. Whenever the fountain is on, the central bubbler must be on. Otherwise the water will not be filtered and bromated for health safety. During periods of active play when the main fountain is on we can have heavy usage. Because the main fountain pumps so much more water than the central bubbler, not all water may pass through the filter. However if the central bubbler is left to run longer hours, especially during the evenings and early morning hours it will restore the entire cistern for another days usage.

Main Fountain: It is obvious that this is the big show and the one that the kids and the community wait for. It is not unreasonable to operate the main fountain when the temperature reaches 70 degrees, especially in the Spring and Fall. However this is too limiting on a couple of points. Once the weather stabilizes for the Summer, it again has been my observation that the kids and parents expect it to be on when they arrive. Many people last Summer made the fountain a regular stop in their day. It was especially clear that parents with small children took advantage of the morning hours when there seemed to be fewer older kids who showed up later. The Main Fountain also was meant to accommodate celebrations, no matter what time of year. It was discussed at numerous meetings that if someone was having a wedding, birthday, anniversary, etc.. that this would be an additional draw to the Miller Community Center. In fact the former Parks Dept. Director, Holly Miller chose to have her daughter's 13th birthday at Miller Community Center because of the fountain.

The pump house is equipped with a series of digital timers that run all the main aspects of the fountain. They have an infinite amount of settings to accommodate a wide range of conditions. I would be more than happy to show the Community Center staff how to program them.

Water: The water is recirculated, filtered and bromated. There is no clear history of water usage. Last year, the first year of operation, had the unfortunate circumstance of the automatic fill valve getting stuck open. No one in the Parks Dept. monitored the cistern until they got a $28,000 water bill. A warning light has been installed on the outside of the pump house for the Community Center staff to see from the main office. However it was installed without a wire guard and is now broken and out of commission.

Power: When the issue of electric use was brought up as a conservation measure, I had the original installing electrician return to give me a live load calculation. He turned on every light, pump, compressor, and gauge he could. The result; the fountain uses at maximum 14.4 kw per hour. This is about the energy used to run one and a half kitchen stoves. At residential rates, it equals about 46 cents an hour to run. Two things to consider, one the Parks Dept. probably receives lower commercial rates. Two, all of the equipment is seldom, if ever, all on at the same time. Operating costs will be lower than calculated here.

Maintenance: It was designed to be energy and water efficient. I have maintained the fountain myself the first month of operation. Before the timers were set and all equipment had to be manually started each day. I found that I could get everything operational, even cleaning the filters, within half an hour.

Through years of dialog, meetings and arguments involving the Parks Dept. the community, landscape architects and myself, it is clear that it is something unique, special and a great asset to the City of Seattle. It is the hub of the circulation pattern of Miller Park. Because it was built by the community itself for itself and for others to share, it is also the hub of the community. The Ron K. Bills Fountain is also a memorial that caries it own set of requirements for proper operation. The Ron K. Bills Fountain at Miller Park is not your typical water feature and should not be treated with disregard or blanket rules.

I have always made myself available to make this project work for the neighborhood and therefore the City. I am willing to continue to do so until we reach an agreement as to how and when the Ron K. Bills Fountain is to be operated. I request a meeting with you, or another representative from the mayor's office, the Parks Dept., Andrew Taylor from the Miller Park Neighborhood Association/Miller Park Advisory Council, Randy Allworth Co-designer, Miller Community Center staff and myself. There must be enough authority in this group to make the necessary decisions and have them carried out. Meeting with the Parks Dept. alone has proven futile.


René Soulard
Project Manager/ Co-designer