20 November 2023

NCA ponders replacing Parkes' broken fountains

| Ian Bushnell
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The way they were: the Federation Fountains in better times. Photo: National Archives.

The heritage-listed but broken fountains in front of Old Parliament House may be replaced under two options the National Capital Authority is seeking designs for.

Fixing the Federation Centenary Fountains comes with a $20 million price tag, something beyond the NCA’s maintenance budget, so it is looking at alternatives.

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The NCA says a detailed analysis showed the fountains need to be completely rebuilt and their operation would also have a significant environmental impact.

“We are looking for innovative ideas that reimagine the fountains for contemporary use while being respectful of their heritage significance and their location in the Parliamentary zone,” CEO Sally Barnes said.

In July, she explained the situation to a federal parliamentary committee.

“What you see at the top is only a little bit of the story underneath. The pumps and pipes and liners to the ponds are not there to start anymore … the pumps are calcified, and it’s a major investment to replace them,” she said.

“Could you have something that was symbolic, but not as costly?”

empty fountain pools

The broken Federation Fountains and empty pools in front of Old Parliament House. Fixing them would cost $20 million, so the NCA wants alternatives. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

An audit report prepared by Storm Consulting in 2017 found broken pipes, cracks in the walls and failed fittings, and that restoration work would be too risky to workers due to exposed electrical components in the plant rooms.

Now, the NCA is calling for costed design concepts based on two options.

The first is the demolition of the central reflection pool and retention of the ‘Wedding Cake Fountains’ and pools on either side with a new design proposal for the immediate precinct.

The second and more radical option would mean the complete demolition of all water features with a completely new design proposal for the area.

Both design proposals will need to be accompanied by a heritage impact statement that would go to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

Walter Burley Griffin envisaged the fountains in his plan for Canberra, but were not commissioned until 1968.

They were refurbished between 1997 and 2000 but from 2000 to 2013 only operated intermittently, ceasing completely in 2014.

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The NCA says refurbishing the fountains would require a complete reconstruction of their infrastructure to bring them back to life at a cost of between $15 and $20 million.

Running costs would also be high, with the pumps and filters requiring significant amounts of power to operate.

According to the NCA, the central feature shallow pool suffers from high evaporation rates, and this water would be drawn from Canberra’s potable water sources.

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This announcement from the NCA is concocted nonsense that seeks to justify an internal position. If the NCA think Canberrans will believe it’s going to cost 20 million dollars to waterproof some concrete and install new pumps they must be kidding. As for the safety excuse – are we to believe that after all of this time working with electricity there isn’t a way to make it safe for workers? I’m not an electrician but I would have thought turning the power off during construction would be a good place to start. As for the Environmental arguments – Evaporation is a significant impact now? Jesus H Christ.

Canberrans need to have a say on the way forward here – including demanding some reasonable estimates of what it would cost to fix the fountains. It’s an embarrassment that they have been neglected for so long.

$15 – $20 million to refurbish the Federation Fountains? That is a ridiculously inflated quote! Do tradies just submit these over the top tenders because it’s government? Privately owned water features are nowhere near this expensive. What checks have been done on this costing?

Stephen Saunders4:30 pm 16 Nov 23

Fountains? NCA can’t even fix the basic signage, that’s frayed apart, all around the lake. And let’s not even talk about the rabbit plague. But Sally B does have profound visions, of aesthetics and sight-lines. We ordinary people wouldn’t understand…

So the NCA started neglecting the fountains from 2000 (23 years ago) and then totally no upkeep from 2014 (9 years ago) and then wonders why it’ll cost 15 million+ to get them back to working order. Just like other slum landlords, the NCA let things get run down and dont do regular maintainence, so they can justify replacement with something “modern”. As other have said fix the exisiting fountains with no demolition

Just fix them and don’t let them go without being maintained again! Obviously whatever you were doing wasn’t good enough.

Does anyone know what the NCA actually does? Do they do actually do anything?

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