The Hennepin County Government Center’s distinctive but problematic pool and waterfall fountain will remain dry this summer, as crews again repair and replace parts of it.
Work started this week on the project, which includes re-waterproofing the pool, replacing the oculus glass on the lower level and reinstalling fountains — repairs that county officials say are more cost-effective than completely replacing the pool and fountain.
The total budget for the construction and design work: $3.5 million.
“We’re hoping it will be a new solid foundation all around,” said Jay Biedny, the county’s manager of design and construction.
The repairs, which officials say will last another 30 years, should be done by the end of September. Until then, visitors won’t be able to sit on the pool’s edge or see the waterfall flowing below. But they will still be able to gather on the plaza.
The water fixtures, which are drained in the winter, don’t leak now. But Biedny said the county wants to be proactive with repairs. It’s the second time these specific repairs have been made in the government center’s 42-year history, he said.
The pool and fountain, the centerpiece of the government center’s north plaza in downtown Minneapolis, have been ongoing problems for decades. In the past, the fountain has leaked into offices below, and leaks also have sprung on the circular glass “curtain wall” around the oculus, which receives the waterfall.
Hennepin County has considered replacing them instead of spending thousands on patchwork repairs. In 2012, a task force recommended removing the pool and waterfall, and doing other improvements, at a cost of $2.6 million. The panel considered turning the pool into a planter at a cost of $500,000, but that option left open the possibility of leakage below.
Last year, officials discussed replacing or repurposing the pool, but opted for repair work because it was less expensive and in keeping with the architect’s original design, Biedny said. It costs the county about $23,000 a year to maintain and operate the pool.
“The possibilities were studied to death,” he said.
Starting this week, crews are installing new tiles in the circular lower level, replacing the glass system and putting in new pipes and other mechanical systems. The work will require removing the granite around the pool.
Crews are also building two new pedestrian ramps on the north edge of the plaza, replacing cracked granite and repairing retaining walls. New outdoor tables and seats will be added, though not until next summer. In a separate project, the county is replacing the revolving doors at the building’s entrance.
The construction work shouldn’t affect the Minneapolis Farmers Market, which relocated this summer to the south plaza, a grassy and tree-lined space on the other side of the building from the red-tiled north plaza.
The two plazas “form two very different urban settings,” Biedny said. Both are busy spots for downtown visitors and commuters; the county estimates that more than 10,000 people pass through the government center every day.
With the Downtown East area rapidly changing and developing just a couple of blocks away from the government center, the plazas are expected to become even more popular.
“This seemed like the edge of the world,” Biedny said of the government center when it opened in the 1970s. “Now with the city moving to the east, we become more of the center.”