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Ode to Fountain Operators - Fountain Operations Transfers to Portland Parks & Recreation

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Vanna White poses with John Bee for Wheel of Fortune filming by Salmon Street Springs Fountain in 2011With the new fiscal year, the responsibility of Portland’s decorative fountains is being transferred to Portland Parks & Recreation. Information and updates about the municipal fountains can now be found on the Portland Parks and Recreation website.

We would like to take one last chance to recognize the dedication of the Portland Water Bureau’s “fountains staff.” Responsibility of the municipal fountains has changed over time and the task has been back in the hands of bureau staff since 1999. One of the long-time fountains operator, John Bee*, has mixed feelings about the change. “We’re kind of sad, but also happy,” said John.

Maintaining all 19 fountains has been a significant duty. The operating engineers have been involved most directly in the task of cleaning and maintaining the public fountains, but the painters have also removed their fair share of graffiti. A myriad of other staff have also been involved in different fountain-related work; from engineers providing feedback in the design process for new fountains to Customer Service representatives fielding hundreds of calls on hot days, asking “Is Jamison on?”

Yet, beyond the day-to-day work that the fountains require, what will be remembered most are all of the stories. Here are just a few:

• The Rose Festival always brings its share of carnival related trash, but one year someone decapitated a giant plush bear. Staff found bits of Styrofoam for the next two years!

• Vanna White, hostess of Wheel of Fortune, met staff while taping for the show with a backdrop of Salmon Street Springs.

• A tourist from Europe lost his expensive hearing aid and somehow John Bee managed to fish it out, and it still worked.

• A few summers ago, there was a soaping spree at Ira Keller Fountain. In the end, it was the local transients who made it known that it wasn’t cool to put soap in the fountain.

Staff often receive a great deal of compliments, especially from tourists who are surprised to see such well-cared-for fountains.” People love the fountains, but many end up trashing them, said John “Graffiti, shopping carts, cigarette butts… you name it and our fountain staff have likely seen it.”

Each fountain is truly unique and has required a certain learning curve and ability to problem-solve. The Water Bureau has been lucky to have the talented staff who have worked so hard to maintain Portland’s public fountains. The bureau is certain that the Portland Parks  & Recreation staff will take the same pride in their work in maintaining the fountains.

Darcy Cronin
Sr. Community Outreach & Information Representative

* This article is based on a tour of the fountains with John Bee, Operating Engineer.

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