An abstract sculpture of Lady Justice and a monument to peace were among the designs suggested for a new water feature to replace the broken fountain in Wilson Park.
A dozen community members met Thursday night to give their ideas to the designer tasked with replacing the centerpiece of the Eau Claire park that stopped working last fall.
“It’s a real bummer that beautiful fountain has failed. The costs to replace it would be astronomical,” said Garret Perry, landscape architect and owner of Madison-based Design Studio Etc.
Demolishing the broken fountain and then reproducing would probably cost double the $147,000 currently budgeted for the project or more, Perry estimated. And costs to keep the old fountain running, which had treated water recirculated through it, were also high, he said.
“If it’s a do-over, what does the community want?” Perry said.
So starting with the idea of a fountain that would not have a basin with standing water in it, Perry let those who attended the meeting at City Hall loose to let their imaginations go.
Anne-Marie Bittner, who leads games of French lawn game pétanque in Wilson Park every Sunday afternoon, brought photos of fountains from around the world to Thursday night’s meeting.
She would prefer a modern-looking fountain and also believes it should not have standing water so there’s no risk of children falling into it.
“Water is necessary, yes,” Bittner said. “But if it were me, I would not put a fountain that’s deep like what we had before.”
Bittner also would want the new fountain to be lit by multi-colored lights — namely red, white and blue (colors of the U.S. flag, which also happen to be used in her birth country of France’s flag).
Other additions she’d like to see to the park are a drinking fountain, Wi-Fi and security cameras.
Jan Frase suggested including a sculpture that her group, the Community Coalition for Non-Violence, had originally commissioned to be part of an Eau Claire veterans tribute that is now planned for Altoona.
The design is a stainless steel monolith with the word “peace” in a different language — English, Spanish, Hmong and Ojibwe — on its four faces. LED lighting would illuminate the lettering on the monolith. Local artist Bilhenry Walker created the design, and Frase would want Eau Claire’s Artisan Forge to make the sculpture.
“We like the idea that it’s using local artists,” she said. “We don’t need to go outside the community. We have the talent here.”
She felt the peace monument would be appropriate for the park as it is a place that people living nearby go for a quiet break.
“They just need a place to watch the birds and relax,” she said.
The theme of peace would be juxtaposed with other aspects of the park tied to conflict, as the park has a sculpture of 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment mascot Old Abe and the site is named after a Civil War veteran.
Owners of businesses located near the park also came to Thursday’s meeting to give their input.
Aaron Salmon, an owner of SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar, thought of having boulders with bubbling fountains placed on a small berm on the park, with water from them flowing in small channels down to a main splash-pad style fountain.
Salmon along with Vicki and Mike Milewski, owners of Galaudet Gallery, also suggested the new fountain could include a sculpture of Lady Justice to pay homage to the park’s history as the site of Eau Claire’s first courthouse.
The park has been home to a fountain since the 1880s, but the one currently there was built in 1969. A drainage pipe underneath it broke last autumn, suspected to be caused by intrusion from roots of a nearby silver maple.
The fountain stands in the middle of the park where three paths intersect, forming a triangular plaza.
Ideas from Thursday’s meeting will be considered by Perry as he comes up with a few potential designs for the park’s new water feature, which he expects to present to the city in about a month and a half. Eau Claire residents who couldn’t attend Thursday’s meeting can still provide input on the project through a survey on the city’s website.
Perry, who has been involved in designing Phoenix Park, Haymarket Plaza and other Eau Claire projects, said the budget for the Wilson Park project should allow for something special.
The Haymarket Plaza fountain cost about $150,000, Perry said, the bulk of the cost coming from the equipment. Because Wilson Park already has had a fountain, less will be needed for equipment, allowing for the water feature there to be more elaborate.
“We’ve already got that existing infrastructure in place, so we could do something extravagant,” Perry said.