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Parks & Beautification recleans ‘Uncommon Friends’ fountain


In late July, the dedicated staff of Fort Myers’ Parks & Beautification Division began getting the Uncommon Friends fountain ready for the re-opening of Centennial Park East. Even though the City’s Public Art Committee had voted in May to eliminate (deaccession) the water feature, it had agreed to reverse its decision if the late Don Wilkins’ wife and friends can find a sponsor for the fountain who is willing to underwrite the cost of repairing damage suffered on a recurring basis by the animals and rock formations in the fountain’s reflection pool as a result of people wading in the water or hopscotching to the island to take selfies with the figures of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. But the fountain couldn’t be left in a state of disrepair for the folks flocking to concerts and other events taking place in the park or at the City’s newly-completed amphitheater. So the Committee purchased the paint and Parks & Beautification supplied the labor needed to make the fountain functional pending a decision on its fate.

Folks venturing into the park on July 22nd would have seen Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone’s heads peeking playfully from the top of large blue tarp. Beneath that tarp, the wildlife and rock formations in the fountain’s reflection pool had been cleaned and freshly painted. All that remained was the application of a coat of gray pool paint to the bottom of the fountain. The tarp ensured that pool bottom would remain dry if it rained over the weekend.

By mid-August, the pool bottom was sporting a pristine coat of silver-gray paint. But supply chain challenges had delayed the delivery of the pool pump and related equipment necessary to reactivate the fountain. That equipment finally arrived a few weeks later. But before it could be wired, plumbed and turned on, Hurricane Ian struck, covering Centennial Park East and most of the River District with several feet of surge. The “three Amigos,” the creatures in the reflection pool and the recently-delivered pool pump in the process were inundated too.

Happily, Parks & Beautification has once more drained and cleaned the pool. Gone is the dark, slippery mud and layer of slime that the surge left behind. Once again, the fountain’s mother alligator and her babies, manatee and her calf, otters, fish and frogs bask in the sunlight, waiting to frolic in the reflection pool. The reclining Edison sculpture still needs to be moved back into position. (The receding surge sucked Edison a couple of feet to the north, so that his head and torso are partially obscured when the island is viewed from the west.)

The installation did suffer two losses. The newly-added lighted campfire was destroyed by the flooding, and although there’s no electrical service in the park as of this writing, Parks & Beautification employees fear that the surge ruined the pool pump and related equipment. If so, it could take several months to order, obtain and install replacements. If that turns out to be the case, Fort Myers could find itself well into the winter tourist season before the fountain can be turned back on. By then, a decision could be made on whether the fountain will be retained or eliminated. But that’s a story for another time and place.

Watch this space for future developments.

November 1, 2022.


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