Located just beyond the campus’ main entrance and plastered across every Occidental brochure is one of the more iconic landmarks on campus, the Lucille Y. Gilman Memorial Fountain. Often surrounded by a peaceful scene of students lounging on grass and visitors taking photos, the Gilman Fountain is a staple on campus — that is, when it’s actually functioning. The fountain has long been in a state of disrepair, plagued by maintenance issues and vague promises of a distant future in which we will be able to enjoy it. I often find myself wondering if we should even call it a fountain and instead designate it as some strange abstract art installation. My issue with the fountain, however, runs deeper than just its lack of functionality. The fountain needs to go — not just for aesthetic reasons, but because it’s an issue of sustainability and equal treatment.
Nothing screams wasteful in aquite like a large fountain. According to Assistant Director of Utilities Chris Reyes, it costs $135.51 to completely fill the 12-inch-deep fountain for a one-day event. The Gilman Fountain is also currently suffering from an underground leak that causes it to lose around three inches of water a day. It costs $33.88 to refill those lost three inches each day. Reyes determined that we spend over $12,000 a year just refilling the fountain when it leaks. When working, the fountain is definitely a sight to behold, but I’d argue that the money that it takes to run and refill it could definitely be put toward something more sustainable.
What’s even worse is that the only time the fountain does seem to work is when parents, alumni or other important visitors come to campus for major admissions or alumni events. As a student here, it seems as if the school is putting on a show when the Gilman Fountain is only turned on sporadically for a few days. This sends the message to students and other more frequent visitors on our campus that the school doesn’t value their continued enjoyment as much as it values that of parents or alumni. Of course it’s important to show the campus in its best light, but we should aim to do so every day, not just when certain people are here to visit.
I will admit the fountain does add a positive vibe to the campus when it works, and much of the student body enjoys lounging around it on sunny days. One could also argue that because the Gilman Fountain has been on campus sinceand has traditions tied to it — like throwing your friend into its questionable waters on their birthday — that students would definitely miss if it is removed. Traditions are fun and important, but if upholding them comes at the cost of sustainability and the continued enjoyment of everyone on campus, then we should rethink them.
With so many issues, be they maintenance-related or stemming from student annoyance at the lack of a functioning water display, the fountain needs to go. Considering all the money and effort it takes to maintain the fountain, its removal would mean we could direct those funds to a more sustainable outdoor landscape that would prove to be less of a financial burden over time. According to a recent ASOC presentation by Diego Zapata (senior), director of the Food, Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST) and member of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Occidental has allocated $1.5 million in renovations to the Gilman Fountain. As of now, the proposed renovations include the creation of an academic space and plans to decrease the current size of the fountain. While these plans are a step in the right direction, I feel that that $1.5 million should be used to reinvent the space completely. A lower-campus extension of the FEAST garden, a drought-tolerant green space, or an art installation by a community member or student are all viable options for that centrally-located space on campus. Perhaps there are even Urban and Environmental Policy majors or professors who have ideas about how to better use the space to make it more sustainable and enjoyable for every community member at all times. It is time to say goodbye to a broken-down symbol of waste and preferential treatment on campus and look to community members — students, faculty and staff — for inventive solutions.
Madeleine Henry is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.