Fountains May Tell You Something About a College Campus
Whenever you visit a college campus, chances are that you will run into a memorable landmark, quite often a fountain, spewing streams of water into the air.
Some fountains that you see on a college campus are visually interesting, even beautiful, in their design. I used to be a city planner. Whenever I visit a college campus, my eyes are drawn to focal points such as sculptures, plazas and fountains. I have been on enough campus tours to see that the eyes of others are drawn to them, too.
Designed and maintained right, fountains tell you several positives about a campus community. According to an article written by water resources experts at the University of Arizona, fountains may:
- Be eye-catching displays of water and art.
- Complement eye-appealing architecture.
- Make a campus feel more peaceful and quieter, mitigating noise.
- Cool an area in very hot or humid weather.
It’s quite common for students to romp through fountains to celebrate birthdays, graduation, the end of a semester or sports victories. That makes them as important to college campus traditions. Its nice to know that some traditions survive for generations, and offer generations of alumni a shared experience. I also like when they’re placed in a pond, and shut off in the colder months. Turn them off and the pond is still there, nice when the pond, like Rutgers’ Passion Puddle or at Ohio State’s Oval (pictured above), is a part of campus traditions.
Done right, a fountain helps the community and builds pride in the school.
But what if the fountain is neither in a pond nor visually interesting?
What if a college needs to turn the water off in the cold weather months?
You might come to find that a fountain is an unattractive nuisance as well as a maintenance headache. When a college has a backlog of property maintenance problems, the fountain will probably get a lower priority. If the fountain is at the bottom of a pond or is complemented by visually appealing, low-maintenance sculpture, you probably won’t notice. But sometimes it isn’t.
At SUNY-Albany, for instance, fountains were a focal point for the design of a concrete campus that opened in the late 1960s. The visual impact is powerful, when the water is turned on. But when it’s turned off for the winter all you see is an empty pool. The look of the empty pool against concrete is bleak during the winter, although the academic campus is quite easy to get around, if you stay indoors.
Four years ago, this university completed a two-year plan to renovate the fountain, adding seating, landscaping and lighting. Renovations to the fountain and water tower were completed at a cost of $20 million. The university had no choice; it had to resolve deterioration and water pressure problems that had built up over more than 40 years, or remove the fountain completely, also an expensive solution. It was probably more cost effective to fix the fountain then it was to take it away. Not to mention that it would mean a permanent end to the annual Fountain Day celebration on campus.
It’s probably to ask, given today’s political climate: why did a state university, a school that is meant to be affordable and accessible for its residents, bother to make a fountain at all?
The SUNY-Albany campus was constructed between 1962 and 1966, at the same time as the state was constructing an ambitious $2 billion multi-block government complex with building designs that mixed well with the new college campus. There were fountains in the government complex, too, but the outdoor plaza has been closed to the public. That was not possible on the college campus because the fountain doubles as the center of the academic quad. Everyone walks by it when they go outside. So the eyesore had to be fixed.
My visit to SUNY-Albany convinced me that if you want to have a fountain on a cold-weather campus, you need to find a way to get more use from the space during the winter, or you need to find creative ways to cover an empty hole after you turn off the water. Do neither, and prospective students and their families will wonder if the community really cares about the appearance of their college campus, and how much pride they have in their school.
Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder. But most of us would agree that an empty concrete pool is bleak and ugly. When parents and students are choosy about choosing a college, bleak and ugly doesn’t cut it.
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