Thursday, August 12, 1999

Fountain going under cover

Glass will let work continue through winter

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Artist's rendering of glass enclosure that will be installed around Tyler Davidson Fountain.
| ZOOM |
        Boarded up, then pasted over with murals, the Genius of Water is about to emerge from hiding.

        Beginning Monday, Cincinnati will build a glass house for the Genius and the rest of the Tyler Davidson Fountain, so the public can watch as it is restored.

        What's more, the treasured landmark will be stripped to its original metal, shedding its familiar green coating for — who knows? It could turn out to be bronze, golden bronze or silver.

        “Until they clean the metal, we're not sure what color it will be,” said Willie Carden Jr., head of facility management for the city. Routine maintenance would prevent future corrosion.

        The start of the restoration was announced Wednesday. The glass house will be heated, so work can continue through the winter. The fountain should be ready for the Reds Opening Day ceremony in April.

        The glass house will add $100,000 to the project's cost, Mr. Carden said.

        Charles Lindberg, a Cincinnati lawyer heading a private fund-raising campaign, said donors have given or pledged $2.35 million, enough to cover repairs. The campaign has set a goal of $3 million, to create a fund to maintain the fountain forever.

        The landmark, which was dedicated in 1871, is seriously corroded inside and weather-beaten. It was last restored in 1971.

        Major donors have been assured that their names will appear on a plaque or in stone when the fountain re-opens, City Manager John Shirey said.

        “That is still being worked out,” he said. “There will be something in the way of permanent recognition for the donors.”

        City Councilman Tyrone Yates objects to that.

        “I think that would be atrocious to the public interest,” Mr. Yates said. “Some things that are public symbols ought to be commercial-free.”

        Cincinnatians are still coming to grips with the idea that Delta Air Lines plans to spend $30 million to attach its name to the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, which is in line for a $405 million expansion. The new name has not been announced.

        A $2.65 million repair of the plaza around the fountain was completed this summer.

        On Monday, workers will begin pacing off the area needed to accommodate equipment and the glass house, Mr. Carden said. They will build a new safety barricade and separate the conservation work on the statue from the repairs to the plumbing, lighting, water display and the inner column that supports the sculpture.

        A few weeks after the work starts, a crane will lift the statue from its base. It will be dismantled into three sections for the restoration.

        McKay Lodge Fine Arts Laboratory Inc. of Oberlin, Ohio, is the conservator — or restorer — of the fountain, at a cost of $290,000.

        The general contractor is Megen/Messer LLC, whose share of the work is roughly $1.8 million, Mr. Carden said.

        The original estimate for the repair was $1.5 million. Mr. Shirey said contractors are charging more now because they are so busy.

        Annual events on Fountain Square — Oktoberfest, the Christmas tree lighting and the skating rink — will continue without significant change, Mr. Shirey said.

        Critics have derided the city's handling of the restoration, from the ugly green barrier erected in May to the need for private dollars. Mr. Lindberg said the criticism has made it difficult to raise money.

        “The hardest part has been overcoming the initial negative reactions stirred up by the wall and people saying, "We're not going to give because the city should pay for it.'”

        In keeping with the public nature of the $2.2 million restoration, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation is having educators draw up a curriculum around it. It will be sent to 1,000 Tristate schools this fall with instructions on how to arrange a field trip, said Ron Molen, executive director of the foundation.

        “We do look at this as being a wonderful education opportunity, particularly for the schools,” Mr. Molen said. “Hopefully for all of us, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


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