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.
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?”
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.
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.