- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Bend’s downtown drinking fountains will serve their final horde of Black Friday shoppers this week before being retired from duty due to costs and safety concerns.

The four outdoor fountains were installed in 1994 as part of a larger process to beautify downtown that also brought new benches, planters and brick sidewalks. The fountains are located on the four intersections framing the block defined by NW Wall and Bond streets and Oregon and Minnesota avenues.

When the city phased out its downtown urban renewal district in 2010, funding for maintenance dried up, and the cost of repairs became “a hot potato” tossed between various departments, according to Carolyn Eagan, the city’s economic development director.

As they’ve aged, keeping the fountains working has become a hassle, with more than two rarely working at the same time.

“You’d go to one and it wouldn’t work, and then the next one you tried wouldn’t work, and then next week both would be working,” Eagan said.

Besides the challenge of funding maintenance, safety concerns motivated the decision to remove them, which will happen during the early morning from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. When they were installed, the city was under no requirement to install a mechanism to stop unwanted liquids from entering the spigot and mingling with drinking water. Current standards call for such a safety feature.

“We know the water that goes to the fountain or bubbler is clean, but if there’s rain or someone spills a soda into it, we don’t know about that,” Eagan said. “There’s a ton of working parts, exposure to the elements and to the public. We need to ensure safety, so we made the decision.”

The city didn’t conduct a formal study to gauge how costly safety upgrades would be, but Eagan said the city has heard anecdotally the work is expensive.

The fountains were also a minor pain in the side of the city’s utility department, as they were not connected to a meter, meaning the city couldn’t account for how much water was being used.

All in all, Eagan doesn’t think it’ll be a big loss, noting when she hears complaints from downtown business owners, rarely do they concern an out-of-service fountain. Eagan acknowledged the fountains may be a resource for the homeless, but emphasized that “if we’re concerned about safety for shoppers then that same concern applies to everyone.”

Rod Porsche, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, said he understands the city’s decision, though he thinks drinking fountains can be an asset.

“It’s part of the plan to have public drinking fountains, and we’ll work closely with the city to make sure it stays part of the long-term plan,” Porsche said. “In the summer, people are looking for that sort of amenity on hot days. I hope we don’t have to go too many summers without them.”

Eagan also didn’t rule out the possibility of fountains returning, saying a public-private partnership could possibly help out with the costs of buying a “whiz-bang, bottle-filling outdoor fountain.”

Nonetheless, there are distinct benefits to removing the fountains, Eagan said.

“Now we have those four corners open for other amenities,” she said. “The city gets asked pretty regularly for more bike parking. It could also be an outdoor cafe. It’s something new we can work with.”

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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