RACINE - A donation from SC Johnson will put one of Downtown's most popular summer play spots, the Dr. Laurel Salton Clark Memorial Fountain, back into public use this year and beyond.
The costs of doing that are not yet known and will be determined by bids, but SCJ announced Wednesday morning it will pay to return the fountain and splash pad to public use.
The work is expected to overcome state health code issues that forced the city to prohibit public use of the fountains at the memorial on Sam Johnson Parkway.
The memorial honors Navy Capt. Clark, the Horlick High School graduate and astronaut who died in the Feb. 1, 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion.
It is currently posted against public use and guarded by an attendant.
Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Donnie Snow said a consultant previously gave some scenarios exceeding $200,000 for a permanent solution.
He said a consultant is now assessing what it will cost to make the fountain usable this summer on a short-term basis.
SCJ Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson said Wednesday that a recent story in The Journal Times, about the threat of people getting ticketed for using the fountain, sparked internal discussions.
"What a tragedy that this fountain is not going to be operating during this summer," Johnson said. "It's a great fountain for kids and a great memorial to Laurel.
"We talked about it and thought, what a great opportunity to help the city by helping to solve this problem for the kids of the city." So, last week SCJ called city officials and offered to help.
"I think that's wonderful news," said Clark's husband, Jonathan Clark, when told about the SCJ promise. "The fact that it got closed was kind of sad for us."
Clark continued, "It's great to see that kind of stepping up to the plate to overcome a bureaucratic hurdle. I'm sure the kids of Racine will really appreciate that."
Company spokeswoman Kelly Semrau said there are ways to bring the fountain into health code compliance soon. "We're very optimistic about that," she said.
Those steps include having nearby toilets such as portable toilets, an attendant on duty and chlorinating the fountain water.
Chlorination was corroding the underground piping, so it was discontinued. But now chlorination can resume, Semrau said, because there will be a long-term fix at summer's end.
SCJ said permanent piping and draining renovations should be completed before next summer. The renovation plan will include work that reduces ongoing maintenance costs.
"We're really pleased to be able to do this and the many other things we do to try to help out the city," Johnson said. "We thought it would be just a nice opportunity."
Clark's brother, Dan Sutton of Muskego, welcomed the news that the fountain will again become interactive for children.
"This is the reason the family really liked this idea of the fountain," he said. "The first time we went down to see it, there were kids playing in it and using it."
The committee to create a memorial to Clark chose the fountain rather than other possible sites, Sutton continued, for that reason.
"(Laurel) had a special love for children," he said. "She would have loved to take (her son) Iain down to a fountain like this to play in it."
Although SCJ is committed to seeing short- and long-term solutions, Johnson said the company would welcome participation by the City, other companies and Downtown Racine Corp.
Mayor John Dickert said that, with SCJ's donation, he thought the splash pad can be back in operation within a couple of weeks.
"We will try to make that happen as soon as possible, now that we have that partnership," he said. "This is fantastic."
The fountain was turned on in 2002 and later became a memorial to Clark, who considered Racine her hometown. She grew up in Wind Point, graduated from Horlick High School and was married in Racine.
DRC Executive Director Devin Sutherland said the fountain's closing was a "heartbreaking loss for Downtown."
"We are very grateful to SC Johnson and the Johnson family for their steadfast commitment to Racine," Sutherland added. "We are anxious to assist SC Johnson with both the long-term and short-term efforts needed to keep the fountain interactive for the community."