After undergoing months of vandalism-related repairs and a recent cleaning to remove algae buildup, the Martha Piper Fountain is finally back in “good order.”
The fountain underwent lengthy repairs last year due to continued incidents of people walking into the fountain, damaging its waterproofing system and flooring.
“We had quite a few challenges with the old membrane because people were walking in the fountain and in the winter, when we had freeze-ups, it was causing problems so the seams… had failed and needed to be replaced,” said John Metras, associate vice-president, facilities.
Replacement of the original waterproof membrane in the fountain began in Fall 2017, but maintenance was extended several times causing the fountain’s reopening to be delayed. The repairs cost $247,000 in total, according to Metras.
“When they got in[side the fountain] they realized that the extent of the repair was much more complicated, and to really effectively provide a good long-term solution for the fountain, we needed to go with a different kind of waterproofing system,” said Metras of the decision to replace the membrane entirely.
The fountain finally reopened in February 2018 — but when it appeared to be closed again in late June, students expressed concern over the cost and timeline of maintaining the fountain.
“Woah, the pool liner look[s] like it's been torn to shreds, I thought they were supposed to have put in something more durable,” wrote Reddit user ionparticle, referring to a photo taken of the fountain when drained.
Other users chimed in that the apparent damage to the fountain’s liner was algae.
Metras confirmed this, but noted that the fountain is “all good” and that the June closure was caused by a power surge in the BC Hydro network that tripped the fountain’s pumps. As a result, algae formed on the stagnant water and the fountain had to be drained and cleaned over the course of a few days.
“Certainly where there are issues like power failures, we just have to deal with those and we do, but we have a pretty robust design in the fountain so it minimizes those types of unexpected issues.”
Many students were nevertheless frustrated by the frequency of the repairs.
“And now the fountain needs repairs again. But somehow, the planning unit on campus is allowed to carry on with little oversight and no accountability, literally pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain,” added Reddit user HelpStopPoorPlanning.
Metras stressed that the job was “complicated” and that the new system is expected to be considerably more durable.
“It was quite a complicated job but we think it’s worth it in the long run from a lifecycle cost perspective because the tiling system is much more robust than the original rubber membrane,” said Metras.
Nevertheless, Metras urged passersby to refrain from walking in the fountain or interfering with it — noting dye and soap-dumping as common pranks — as the damage can be extremely costly and time-consuming.
“We prefer people stay out in order ensure the longevity of the fountain [and] we also encourage folks to avoid the pranks in the fountain. For the dye, it ends up being quite expensive for our team to go in and drain the fountain,” said Metras.
“I think we’ve got a really nice water feature there and we hope the campus community enjoys it.”