Fountain Upgrade Adds Life and Light to a City Landmark

The town center fountain in Columbia, Maryland, has been a focal point of the lakefront area since it was built-out by the Rouse Company in 1967. At that time, James Rouse sought to establish a complete city with business and industry as an economic driver, housing and apartments to match local incomes, and schools and amenities for residents to enjoy. Fifty years later and with a population of 100,000, Columbia has met and exceeded all of its visionary’s original goals. It was even recognized as the top small city to live in by Money magazine in 2016.

As the main business and commercial district gears up to celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary this summer, the Columbia Association recognized that the fountain adjacent to Lake Kittamaqundi, which has become a local landmark, had not aged as well as the surrounding community. Over the years, the lighting, fixtures, piping and nozzles had deteriorated, creating a need for significant repairs. The company that made many of these original components was no longer in business, so parts were not available when maintenance was required.

With a host of events planned for the town center as part of the anniversary celebration, the Columbia Association asked KCI to design upgrades that would replace the pump, piping, jets and lighting fixtures. Our team provided mechanical, electrical and incidental structural engineering to restore the fountain.

The first challenge was the lack of documentation from the original design and construction. Engineers used the few available hand-drawn structural and grading drawings dating back to 1967, which had been scanned, and combined that information with field measurements to create a complete picture of the existing conditions. In just 15 hours, KCI designer Michael Price quickly created a detailed 3-D digital model of the fountain to serve as the base plans for the rehabilitation.

Columbia Fountain Workstation Snapshot
Using the BIM model, structural engineers designed a custom interface plate to strengthen the connection between the pedestal and the vertical pipe while providing a watertight sleeve in the bottom of the basin.

The mechanical design presented its own obstacles. The degradation of the fountain necessitated that the entire plumbing system be replaced within the existing concrete structure. The challenge was two-fold: identify the original equipment in order to replace it in-kind and ensure replacements would stand the test of time. It was critical to determine the required performance characteristics in order to generate expected water flow patterns and strength.

Every fountain is different with unique nozzles and pumps. Everything is custom, everything is designed and tailored specifically for that application. It’s non-standard equipment being put together to create an effect, or in this case recreate an effect.

Matthew E. Hulcher, PEPractice Leader, Fire Protection Engineer

Matthew E. Hulcher, PE

The nozzles and the look of the fountain were chosen to replicate the original design, according to Columbia Association Project Manager Phil Mertens. The design had to be reflective of what had been here and work within the existing structure. “Finding companies that produce fountain jets is really challenging,” said Project Manager and Practice Leader Matt Hulcher, PE, who made inquiries with a European firm first and then an Atlanta-based organization, before finally working with a shop in Florida.

In addition to the mechanical complexities, the design team also considered multiple lighting options. Initially, electrical engineers created a color RGB lighting plan that would allow the fountain to be programmed for special events. For example, red, white and blue lighting might be used for Independence Day and orange for Halloween. The team used actual light profiles from the selected equipment to create detailed BIM renderings of the color options.

Columbia Fountain Colored Lighting Scheme
BIM renderings helped the team visualize possible lighting schemes for the fountain.

“The tools we employed really helped the client to visualize what the end product would look like, and helped us visualize the different lighting patterns and where to locate them,” said Price. “Post-construction conditions are extraordinarily similar to the renderings, down to how shiny the columns are.”

The Columbia Association was able to consider multiple alternatives and lighting options. “In the end, we selected a simple white scheme that would reflect the original design with some enhancements,” said Mertens. “We chose LED lighting fixtures in keeping with our commitment to energy conservation and the environment, as well as longevity in regards to maintenance.”

The restored fountain, featuring LED lighting and a complete replaced mechanical system, is now brighter, more reliable and even more sustainable.

Earlier this year, the fountain was repaired along with the pavement, electrical circuits and mechanical equipment. An automatic chemical injection system was added to reduce maintenance requirements.

In April, the fountain began to flow again with brighter lights and more reliable jets. “Our intent was to enhance but not to change, and I think we’ve done that,” said Mertens. “People are ecstatic.”