A historic but broken fountain in Virginia, Minn., could undergo a complete renovation beginning this year thanks to thousands of dollars in donations and the two-year effort of volunteers.
The Olcott Park Fountain restoration project has its own Facebook page and the backing of city officials, who want to see a public-private partnership pay for $900,000 of needed repairs to the structure, built in 1937.
“We’re up to about $356,000,” said the project’s chief volunteer, Greg Gilness, chairman of the Olcott Park Fountain Committee. He hopes to see $400,000 raised in public funds, with the rest to be raised through private grants. None of the private money has been raised yet, he said.
The first phase of repairs could begin as soon as August and will address the damaged concrete pool and the fountain, Gilness said. The second phase, hoped for next year, would include an observation deck, sidewalks around the pool’s perimeter and landscaping.
The Virginia Community Foundation is acting as the fiscal agent and has collected checks, cash and pledges for the project, which began in 2015.
The fountain was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 9. It was built during the depth of the Great Depression by workers employed under the Works Progress Administration, a federal program that hired millions of people, most of them men, to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
The fountain and surrounding park area, including a zoo, flower gardens, and crushed gravel walkways, were something the community needed, said Gilness. Colored lights played on the streams of water shooting out of the fountain, and the sprays changed every few minutes. But maintenance of the original equipment became increasingly difficult, and the fountain shut down in 2013.
The new system will do everything the original did, said Gilness. Brighter lights will play off the water, with a center spray rising 20 to 30 feet, depending on the pump the group purchases.
As a young boy growing up in Virginia, Gilness said he remembers nights when his family would drive to the local Tastee Freez or A&W and then park near the fountain to watch its colored lights.
“As kids we weren’t allowed to leave the car,” he said, “but you could see young couples and families walking around and just enjoying the show.”