After the end of finals December 2019, Occidental College began construction on the Gilman Fountain Plaza Project, located between Herrick Chapel and Hinchliffe Hall. For several years, plumbing issues with the fountain have caused it to leak several inches of water a day, according to Christopher Reyes, associate director of Facilities. According to Associate VP of Facilities Tom Polansky, there were also issues with the condition of “Water Forms II” by George Baker, the sculpture within the fountain itself. The work on the fountain and plaza will most likely be completed by the beginning of summer, according to Jim Tranquada, director of communications and community relations. Tranquada said students can expect to see the renovated fountain up and running by the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester.
According to Tranquada, the project is being funded by an anonymous donor. As with all of its construction projects, the college has hired an outside company — in this case, Pacific Custom Tools — to do the construction work. Occidental Facilities staff will oversee the project, Tranquada said.
The renovated fountain will be larger, elliptical and feature an infinity edge which allows water to spill over into a small gutter. Tranquada said this feature will help the campus squirrels climb out of the fountain more easily.
“The year before, our lead plumber rescued a squirrel from the Gilman Fountain. It was a big hit on Instagram,” Tranquada said.
Tranquada said the new fountain design will also better highlight Baker’s artwork.
“The fountain contains a significant piece of artwork that’s very closely tied to Occidental because it was created by an Oxy alumnus who also was an art professor,” Tranquada said.
According to Polanksy, the facilities department will remodel the surrounding plaza in addition to the fountain. Some of the new features include six granite benches, native plants, a path directly connecting Herrick Chapel with Hinchliffe Hall, more accessible ramps and permeable pavement. The new ramps will run perpendicular to the main walkway that leads from the AGC down to Rush Gymnasium. Polanksy said before construction, the ramps leading to the gymnasium curved off at the plaza, making travel along them difficult.
According to Polansky, the native plants will require less watering, while the new pavement will help slow the flow of storm water during rainy weather. Tranquada said a filtration system beneath the plaza will clean water and drain it back into the groundwater system.
“We’re not contributing storm water flow at all from that lot,” Tranquada said. “It just flows back into the ground.”
Polansky said most of the construction work so far has involved moving the earth beneath the fountain because the leakage has caused it to become saturated with moisture.
“It had to be excavated and essentially dried out, and then put back in and re-compacted,” Polansky said. “That would be necessary if we were creating a new plaza, or whether we were simply recreating the old one, because you can’t safely build on top of soil that’s super saturated with moisture.”
According to Polanksy, the pace of the construction will depend in part on local weather patterns and city inspections, both of which are difficult to predict.
“It’s always challenging to come up with an exact timeline,” Polansky said. “We may be ready for an inspection, but the inspector can’t show up for another week or 10 days, so we have to wait until the inspector shows up and certifies the work.”
In the meantime, students have mixed feelings about the ongoing construction on campus. Jonathan Fang (first year) said he had hoped the college would fix the fountain and is glad to see it being renovated.
“This is kind of your centerpiece, like your aesthetic centerpiece of the campus, that you show to prospective students,” Fang said.
Fang said the construction impacted students’ enjoyment of the lawn around the fountain.
“The fact that now the Gilman area is under construction — there used to be benches there, so that space isn’t open. But it’s just, for me, a minor annoyance,” Fang said.
Others commented on the new footpaths. Alexander Dong (first year) said he thinks the path linking the chapel and Swan Building is efficient and necessary.
“We usually just walk on the grass, but if there is some other way, it would be even better,” Dong said. “What I’m most interested in is, I know you can celebrate somebody’s birthday by dumping them into the fountain. So I look forward to that.”