Small-scale 'Bellagio-type' fountain envisioned for Symphony Woods

Presented with conceptual designs for a fountain in the middle of the new Symphony Woods Park — the centerpiece within the centerpiece of a revitalized downtown — some Columbia Association board members gushed with enthusiasm, while others let the criticism flow.

The fountain would be part of the second phase of construction in Symphony Woods, which CA wants to transform from a largely wooded, underused 40-acre property to a vibrant attraction.

The first phase of construction is not expected to begin until spring 2013. With plenty of time until the second phase could begin — and with some board members not satisfied with what they saw at their Jan. 26 meeting — the project literally was sent back to the drawing board.

CA board members will hold a work session to detail what they are looking for, then will forward their thoughts to the Florida-based Wesco Fountains Inc. The cost of the fountain, budgeted at $450,000, could rise with the addition of more features.

Gregg Schwind, who represents Hickory Ridge, said the money could be worth it.

"I just worry we're doing this on the cheap," he said during the meeting. "If we're willing to double that, triple it, quadruple it — we're talking about something that's going to be there for decades. I'm wondering how much more spectacular we can get if we bump up the budget."

The designs Wesco Fountains presented Thursday imagined the fountain not with a traditional pool of standing water, but as an area that children can play in, where the streams of water can shoot up in the air at pre-programmed heights and lighted in any number of colors while background music plays, and where performances can be staged when the water is shut off.

It would be visible from Little Patuxent Parkway, designers said.

"The idea of an interactive fountain has been a big idea for a big part of the park," said Jan Clark, CA's project manager. "Fountains are visually interesting, and people are drawn to water features."

And with a bigger budget, the fountain could become something along the lines of a famed Las Vegas fountain, "a Bellagio-type show on a much smaller scale," said Chris Roy, a senior project designer with Wesco Fountains.

The designs shown Thursday, however, called for a fountain approximately 60 feet in diameter and raised slightly off the ground. The surface, while wet, would be non-skid and "foot-friendly," safe for children to run around on, Roy said.

One of the designs included stainless steel columns rising in the fountain area that can have water overflowing down their sides. With some trees being taken down to make room for the fountain, these columns would reflect the surrounding woods "and bring them back within," he said.

The streams of water can be frozen in winter, creating natural ice sculptures. And the fountain would be easy to maintain despite the trees, as blowing leaves would largely be caught on the sides of the raised surface and those that remain on the fountain can simply be swept off, Roy said.

The proposed designs appealed to board members Suzanne Waller of Town Center and Michael Cornell of River Hill.

"I love having it be a sculpture in the park," Waller said. "I would love it to be outrageously great, a 'wow factor,' but not obnoxious, that the design is beautiful and the function is beautiful."

Cornell favored the design featuring the reflective columns. "I think that enhances the natural setting the fountain is sitting in," he said.

But Schwind and Cynthia Coyle, who represents Harper's Choice, felt the designs did not necessarily fit the environment.

Schwind described them as ultramodern and more appropriate when surrounded by urban buildings, not by nature.

"I get kind of a cold feeling from it," Coyle said. "Stainless steel reminds me of bedpans. … Generally, I was hoping for a little more warmth, and I don't feel warmth."

The board's work session for the fountain will be held sometime after the end of CA's budget process, which is scheduled to wrap up in late February.

Construction on the first phase, once thought to begin by July, has been delayed while CA works to gain approval from the county government. CA is coordinating with Howard Hughes Corp. and its plans for Merriweather Post Pavilion, the concert venue Howard Hughes owns and which the park encircles.

CA has received an extension for filing its final development plan with the county, submitting for the third time documents that are akin to conceptual plans that provide an overall vision for a neighborhood and also include design guidelines. New development in downtown Columbia goes through the site development process as well, which pertains to a specific project within the neighborhood and includes more details such as building footprints.

CA has until the first week of March to turn in its final development plan, which will then be reviewed by government staff before moving on the county's planning board.

Construction on the first stage of the park is expected to be done by later in 2013, Clark said. A state grant of $250,000 must be spent by June 1 and will likely be assigned before then to contracts for designing and constructing the park, she said.

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