The water feature, a mix of public art, geographical depiction and play area, was an instant hit with children looking for a cool spot to frolic on summer days.
Despite the water feature’s popularity, blemishes started showing on the 12-foot tall, 16-foot wide granite and bronze monolith shortly after it opened on Aug. 9. Water splashing onto the back side of the stone structure at the feature’s east end, a structure called Headwaters, has left unsightly white deposits on a small portion of the polished black granite.
Vancouver Parks and Recreation Director Julie Hannon said the city’s janitorial subcontractor will try different cleaning products recommended by the fountain’s manufacturer, starting with commercially available, low-abrasion products.
“It’s nothing heavy duty,” she said. “That will give us a good indication of how hard this will be to treat.”
As part of this effort, the city last week changed the time when the water begins flowing through the structure, from 4:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., to allow more time for early-morning cleaning. The water will continue to be shut off at 8 p.m. nightly.
“We are going to do some water testing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s chlorine because some of this started occurring before we started chlorinating the water.”
“I don’t even see it as a ding in the door,” she said. “I see it as a flock of birds flew overhead and left a mess on your car.”
“I think we are at the beginning and have a lot of experimental steps to go through before we are throwing up our hands,” she said.
Larry Kirkland, the same artist who designed the Grant Street Pier, created the $3.5 million water feature. The project was paid for by private donors and foundations, including The Columbian and others in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. Contributors are recognized on the south side of the Headwaters structure.
Columbia Waterfront, which has coordinated the overall waterfront redevelopment effort, donated the interactive public art. The Vancouver City Council formally accepted it on Aug. 5, which made the city responsible for operating and maintaining it.
Hannon said the artist and others are considering creating a shield that could reduce water splashing onto the monolith’s back.
The water deposits are similar to the chalky film that has beleaguered the city on the Salmon Run Bell Tower in Esther Short Park for more than 15 years. White stains have coated portions of the red bricks and small areas of the salmon sculptures.
Hannon said city officials discussed their experiences with Kirkland during the design process, who looked over the bell tower during a visit to Vancouver.
Terry Snyder, landscape architect with Vancouver Parks and Recreation and project manager on the Vancouver Waterfront Park, said the bell tower includes mortar joints that can be damaged by strong cleaners. The Columbia River water feature, in contrast, has a smooth surface, he said.
“One thing we are hoping is that, because it’s a polished surface, it will be a little easier to get off than over at the bell tower, which is a porous brick,” he said. “I’m optimistic that with the smooth surface, it’s going to be a little easier to dissolve that mineral.”
It’s common for water to leave white stains in household showers and other locations. Snyder said he has noticed some on bricks on the side of his house, as well as on Vancouver City Hall, which also has a brick skin.
Early on, the city tried a variety of cleaning techniques on the Salmon Run Bell Tower and discussed whether a filtration system could deter the white stains, but that does not appear to be a solution for the Columbia River water feature.
“There’s not a filtration system that is fine enough to do that,” Snyder said. “It’s something more inherent in the makeup of the water.”
Friday morning, under partly cloudy skies, the water feature already was humming with activity, something that won’t change regardless of how successful the city is in removing the white deposits.
“People are certainly enjoying it, maybe overenjoying it,” Hannon said, adding that maintenance workers removed a whole peanut butter sandwich from the water feature.
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