Friday, July 23, 2004

How do you move a 109-ton fountain?

Experts say piece-by-piece dismantling would be tricky - and fraught with risk

By Cliff Radel
Enquirer staff writer

Blue McDonald's company, McDonald Meg-A-Lift Industrial Contractors Inc., lifted the Tyler Davidson Fountain during renovation in 2000.
DOWNTOWN - The Tyler Davidson Fountain weighs heavily on Fountain Square, literally and figuratively. The 109 tons of stone and bronze has for 133 years anchored the heart of Cincinnati.

For those reasons, members of the team that restored the fountain in 2000 say any plan to move it should not be taken lightly.

They expressed reservations about moving the fountain to the square's center.

The move - discussed in a series of public forums concluding Aug. 12 - is the centerpiece of the square's estimated $20 million to $25 million overhaul.

Preliminary drawings of the square's face lift were unveiled in June by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. The private group, known as 3CDC, is charged with revitalizing downtown.

Public outcry is not behind the fountain's move.

New design unveiled in June
What do you think of the proposal?
If you would like to comment on the plans by Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (also known as 3CDC) to overhaul Fountain Square and move the Tyler Davidson Fountain, you can attend an upcoming public forums:

• First week of August, at a West Side location to be announced.
• 7:30 a.m. Aug 12, Southbank Partners office, 421 Monmouth St., Newport.
You can also call 513-621-4400 or e-mail

"It wasn't like the public said, 'We don't like it there, put it somewhere else,' " said Pam Middendorff, 3CDC project manager.

The plan to move the fountain "was based on the input we got from the designers." The public requested a greener square with more activities. The designers, from New York and Philadelphia, came up with a layout that moved the fountain so more people could sit closer and enjoy it.

Experts attached a price tag of at least $3.25 million for the move. Money would come from public and private sources, like the rest of the square's renovation.

"The fountain is the emblematic heart of the city. So it needs to be handled with great respect and dignity," Tom Podnar said. The Oberlin-based conservator unbolted the fountain in 2000, removed decades of grime and corrosion and restored its original dark-chocolate brown patina before putting everything back together.

"To make the move as risk-free as possible, you have to spend the money and hire the best firms to avoid the chance of breaking anything," Podnar said.

The fountain was given to the people of Cincinnati in 1871. Hardware magnate Henry Probasco paid for the work of art to honor his late brother-in-law, Tyler Davidson.

To generations of Greater Cincinnatians, the heart of town has been identified with the Fountain. People gather by its waters to celebrate special moments both highly private - a stolen kiss, a wedding - and very public - a war's end, a World Series victory.

The fountain was moved about 30 feet east in the late '60s when today's square at Fifth and Vine replaced an oval-shaped plaza.

"It was not completely dismantled in the '60s move, and that caused problems," Podnar said.

Parts bent and the fountain started to leak and corrode.

"You could damage it very easily trying to move it all in one piece. To lift the two lower pieces - they weigh 16,000 and 17,000 pounds - is a rigging nightmare. You have to take it apart."

And then carefully lift each section with a crane.

"To move it to the center of the square would be a pretty big undertaking," Blue McDonald said. He owns Blue Ash-based McDonald Meg-A-Lift. Crews from his company lifted the fountain from its stone foundation and replaced it after its 2000 restoration.

The fountain's weight - almost 24 tons of bronze and 85 tons of granite-hard porphyry stone - make lifting it with cranes difficult.

"Put cranes on the square," McDonald said, "and the weight they'd be lifting would send them crashing into the underground parking garage below."

Ditto for cranes doing the heavy lifting from parts of the surrounding streets.

"The fountain's stone base could be jacked up," McDonald noted, "and put on rollers." Then the sections would be rolled across the square like giant stone scooters.

McDonald estimated his company's part of the move would take at least two weeks. The cost would be "around $250,000 plus reinforcing the area underneath."

Reinforcing the parking garage "would cost $1 million, easily," Uriel Schlair said. Based in Chicago, he was the lead architect on the fountain's restoration.

In addition to the cost of reinforcing the garage "there would be all sorts of disconnect and reconnect with the electrical and plumbing connections," Schlair added.

Additional costs of the estimated $3.25 million move include:

• Dismantling and assembling the work's bronze sections.

• Rebuilding the pump room.

• Relocating the basin and making sure it's leak-proof.

• Installing new exterior lights.

• Orchestrating the construction.

• Drafting plans.

One place the money for the move won't come from is an $800,000 endowment expressly reserved for fountain maintenance.

"They cannot tap the endowment. It would go against what our donors had in mind," Charles Lindberg said. The Cincinnati attorney raised money to restore the fountain and fund the endowment.

"This is the kind of thing that drives me wild," Lindberg said of the proposed move.

Five years ago, "we raised $3 million to save the darned fountain. Now, we're going to turn around and start over? No thanks!"


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