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Manteca waters down appeal of Library Parks $1.4M makeover
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Want to see Manteca’s most expensive art work?
It’s not of Crossroad Community Church where a privately funded water fountain sits idle. The fountain uses the power of water — when it is running — to turn (or more precisely spin) a gigantic rock sphere smoothed into a ball and etched to resemble the earth.
Nor is it one of the bigger murals gracing downtown walls.
Those are penny ante works of art running only into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Think bigger.
Perhaps it is the pseudo Spreckels Sugar silos fashioned from four large segments of culvert pipe with brick from the old sugar factory at its base that serves as the Spreckels Historical Plaza off Spreckels Avenue behind the Chevron station. The $250,000 investment by developers Mike Atherton and Bill Filios who were partnered with Bing Kirk at the time was a gift to the people of Manteca that has long since been claimed by the homeless.
Still not expensive enough.
As crazy as it may seem Manteca’s most expensive art project was never intended to be that — static art.
But thanks to a pennywise and pound foolish decision 10 years ago by the City of Manteca the $400,000 plus interactive water play feature at Library Park has become just that — art.
Jets of water shooting up from a mosaic representing Manteca’s geology, culture and history accented by a railroad theme along with squeals of joy from frolicking kids and the occasional soft blast of a pseudo train whistle has been bone dry — save for the occasion drops of rain — for three years.
It was prudently shut down as the drought started to deepen by order of City Manager Karen McLaughlin. The water feature does not recirculate water. Instead it goes into the city’s storm drainage system.
This was a choice a previous City Council made based on a staff recommendation. The technology existed at the time to have a recirculating water system. The decision to use it was based on the fact the recirculating system cost more and had ongoing costs due to the requirement for periodic treatment and testing of the water. It should be noted both Ripon and Lathrop faced a similar decision for interactive water play features that went in prior to Manteca’s. Both went with recirculating water. Ripon’s was built through the generosity of Tony Mistlin while Lathrop’s was funded by taxpayers. At one point the play features stopped flowing a year ago when the drought deepened.
But they will come back on.
Manteca’s won’t.
The City Council earlier this year basically banned the use of fountains and such that do not recirculate water. It is part of the water conservation ordinance. The council won’t be able to carve out an exception for the Library Park water play feature or drop the restriction even if the current drought does come to an end. That’s because the State of California is finally worried about the bigger picture and is moving toward more mandates that conserve water realizing we have too much demand and not enough water even in normal and above average weather years.
One would think someone on the council would be asking about the fate of the water play feature given it was the cornerstone of the $1.4 million expansion and makeover of Library Park that took eight painful years to execute.
The original decision never made sense given the city is supposed to be charging itself for water to make the water enterprise account whole. If it cost $5,000 a year in staff time and chemicals to meet health and safety regulations it would easily be offset with the annual water bill for running the feature.
Of course, the upfront cost is higher. Plus you have to ask yourself if a private sector concern wanted to put in such a feature whether city staff would have allowed them not to recirculate the water.
Before anyone spends money arbitrarily tearing out landscape bulbs on Main Street, the council might want to get a cost estimate for retrofitting the water play feature first.  And if they think about it, perhaps spending money making something that cost $400,000 actually function might be a higher priority especially since it is something kids get so much innocent pleasure playing in it.
Maybe the water play feature will join the infamous Tidewater kiosk at Yosemite Avenue in Manteca city lore near Regal Signs that has been in place for almost 20 years and has yet to be finished.
It was put in place for $15,000 and was supposed to have an additional $5,000 of work done to complete it so it could have a map of the Tidewater, use rules, and even a place to post announcements. Imagine that. It would be a functional kiosk.
Instead, it was decreed too expensive (as if putting in a $15,000 non-functional structure was somehow less expensive in comparison).
Ironically for two consecutive years city staff used a photo of the unfinished Tidewater kiosk to grace the municipal budget binder distributed to council members as if the image represented a source of civic pride.
Maybe someone will suggest using a photo of Library Park’s interactive water play feature on the cover of the 2016-17 budget document. It would be a fitting tribute.