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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fountains run up a hefty bill

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

It costs the city more than $220,000 a year to keep water pumping through Waikiki's 11 water features — seven of them built along Kuhio Beach.

Dillingham Fountain in Kapi'olani Park is one of 11 water features in Waikiki maintained by the city at a cost of more than $220,000 a year.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

No matter what you think of that price tag, city officials say they can't remove the fountains and other features because it would be ugly and expensive to take them out, therefore the city is committed to spending whatever it costs to keep them going.

"To somebody, $1 spent on this would be too much; to somebody else, we can't spend enough," said city Parks Director Lester Chang.

Chang said the newer fountains cost more to operate because several have more than one pump. And the moving parts of a pump need constant care. "They require a little more attention, so it's going to cost a little more than maintaining an open ball field," he said.

The average cost of running most of the other water features is closer to $6,000 apiece, he said.

The total annual cost of maintaining the city's 19 water features is $266,858, Chang said, which includes some decades-old fountains as well as nine new ones.

Seven fountains, ponds and waterfalls line Kuhio Beach. They are newer and tend to be more expensive than the older water features.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Some folks spending time in Waikiki yesterday liked the atmosphere that the trickling waters help create, while others questioned the cost.

Shelvey and Sylvia Holland are visiting Hawai'i from Atlanta. While strolling through Waikiki yesterday they stopped for a photograph of a water feature that includes a bronze statue of a surfer and Hawaiian monk seal.

Shelvey Holland said such features help create a certain flair and special feeling for visitors, something they're not likely to see closer to their Georgia home. "This is what coming here's all about," he said. "It's the ambiance that's created."

He said the water features complement the natural beauty of the Islands. Still, he understands the cost concerns about government spending in general. "It sounds to me very high," he said, referring to the quarter-million dollar annual cost to maintain the features.

Suzie Kanaka, of Mililani, doesn't think the beachside waterfalls and fountains justify the cost. She hears monthly reports of sewer line breaks and problems with potholes and sees those as higher-priority city projects.

Thurston Triangle Fountain, one of the city's newer water features, costs about $20,000 a year to maintain.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Why are we wasting the money here?" she asked.

"We could just have the feature and the plants," Kanaka said. "We don't need the water."

Chang estimates it takes city crews about 10 hours a week to maintain each water feature. They must be cleaned every day to clear out the debris and prevent clogging. The Kuhio features need more attention because the beachfront waterfalls often get clogged with sand and suntan oil.

Today, at a city parks committee meeting, council members are due to hear more details about why the costs are what they are. City Council Parks Committee Chairman Charles Djou had asked for the cost as the city works to trim the budget wherever possible, shifting emphasis to such core city services as road repair, sewer work and public safety.

About half of the water features were built during the last city administration, Djou said.

Last month, maintenance problems at the Chinatown Gateway Park fountain — next to downtown's historic Hawai'i Theatre — caused officials to question whether that water feature should be turned off in response to chronic breakdowns. The city has resisted that move — as have neighboring businesses that have offered to help maintain the fountain.

Chang said the city has no plans to close any water features. "A lot of people like them," he said.

He said the city is working to take care of them efficiently and economically.

Djou — whose Waikiki district includes 11 water features — said the high maintenance cost should serve as a lesson to council members to be "very cautious about these nice-to-have projects in the future."

He noted that several of the newest water features — the seven features along Kuhio Beach, the Kapi'olani Park Bandstand pond and the Thurston Triangle fountain — cost an average of $20,000 each to maintain if you count Kuhio as seven separate water features, because it is a series of waterfalls and fountains stretching along the beach and built as part of the Kuhio redevelopment.

Djou and Chang both stress that no city officials are proposing that new water features be built.

Djou said it would cost too much to take out the fountains and ponds now. "We should maintain them because if we don't maintain them properly, they become eyesores and we'd have a worse situation on our hands," he said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.

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What it takes to keep the water flowing through city fountains

City officials estimate that it costs a total of $266,858 annually to maintain the city's 19 water features.

Waikiki water features: Kapi'olani Park Bandstand pond, Kuhio Beach water features (seven of them), Dillingham Fountain, King Kalakaua Gateway Fountain and Thurston Triangle Fountain, $220,096

Pohakupu Fountain, Kailua, $6,541

Thomas Square Fountain, Honolulu, $6,416

West Loch Fountain, 'Ewa Beach, $350

City Hall Fountain, $6,541

King/Kapi'olani Fountain, $6,441

Chinatown Gateway Fountain, $7,066

Robert W. Wilcox Mini Park Fountain, downtown, $6,866

Fort Street Mall Satellite City Hall Fountain, downtown, $6,541

Source: City Department of Parks and Recreation