What is actually broken with the Tsutakawa Fountain? Not much, it turns out.

Paige Allison and Alia Marsha

A version of this article appears in spring print edition in June 4 2013.

You might have seen the posters urging you to join the Tsutakawa Fountain committee. You might have attended the fundraising gala with taiko drums and dignitaries. You might have been one of 700 people to sign the petition.

Look Familiar? This is the Tsutakawa Fountain which resides in SCCC's Atrium, positioned directly in front of Registration and Financial Aid Offices. Photo by: Tina Young
Look Familiar? This is the Tsutakawa Fountain which resides in SCCC’s Atrium, positioned directly in front of Registration and Financial Aid Offices. Photo by: Tina Young

Driving all tha effort was a number: $99,540. That’s what a consultant’s report suggested it would cost before the fountain could flow again.Turns out Fountain by George Tsutakawa just isn’t that broken.

“Right now I can just go in there [the plumbing room] and connect a couple of wires,” Paul Lindstrom of Seattle Central’s Engineering Department told the New City Collegian. “We can make it work right now.”

That’s right. In a couple of minutes, the fountain could be flowing like it did for over 40 years. So why won’t the administration just turn it back on?

The consultant’s report, created by Sally Roth of Johnston Architects and commissioned by the Seattle Central administration, was delivered to the college on November 6 of last year. The report was broken up into phases with cost estimates and 20% contingency fees:

Phase 1 is brick repair, brick cleaning, brick sealing and scrubbing down the fountain itself—and that doesn’t include buffing up the bronze patina. Cost: $13,140. Phase 2a is a sanitation system, new pump, and a little plumbing. Cost: $68,540.Phase 2b is putting a railing around the fountain. Estimated cost: $18,000. That’s about a thousand bucks a foot.

Why a railing? The administration reportedly was concerned about safety after a student fell into the now-dry pit of the fountain. The Fountain Committee pointed out that the symbolism of placing a fence around Tsutakawa’s fountain is insulting in light of the history of Japanese internment.

During spring quarter of 2013, the administration conceded the fountain didn’t really need a railing after all.That still leaves over $80,000 in possible costs to renovate the fountain, according to the consultants.

That’s big bucks, and a lot of it supposedly for sterilizing the water.  But NCC has found that the push to sanitize makes no sense. Fountains in casinos, malls, and hundreds of other Seattle public places operate safely with un-sanitized water running in them.

“We have installed a koi pond in a restaurant next to tables 6 inches from the water,” says Rick Perry of Falling Waters Designs, a company specializing in water features. “There are many examples of casinos with interior water features, with the only thing cleaning the water being the periodic water flow.”

Perry says he is “not familiar with any regulations that require sterilization” of fountains.Moreover, he claims sterilizing water doesn’t need to break the bank.

“A simple sterilization unit could go for $120. This type is used for swimming pools and uses chlorination tablets, but I don’t think you even need that,” he said.

It seems the administration is going to need some convincing of that, however. Lindstrom worries about the Legionella bacteria, which causes the rare but fabled Legionnaires’ disease. “With the fountain, you have a chance for bacteria to grow,” he says. “That bacteria will be in the air and you can breathe it in.”

“Guidelines for Control of Legionella in Ornamental Water Features,” published by Legionella Risk Management Inc., points out that every disease outbreak from Legionella was associated with submerged lighting, which heats the water. Only water heated above 68 degrees can be hazardous. Moreover, bacteria mostly form in environments with biofilm, cloudy or dirty water, and where there are sources of nutrients such as amoebae, protozoa and algae are present. Finally, Legionnaire’s is caused by inhaling contaminated water.That only happens with water features that create mist.

The Tsutakawa fountain doesn’t have any of these risk factors. With no submerged light fixtures, the water is cool. It’s continually cleansed by the existing filtration system. And it’s also of the non-aerosol variety, meaning that it emits very minimal droplets. Not to mention that hundreds of fountains in Seattle do just fine without zapping the water.

Even if you wanted UV sterilization Perry says a 40 watt UV system that sterilizes 2,000 gallons water would cost $400 to $500.

How much would a new pump cost, if the Tsutakawa fountain actually needs one? “A high quality in-line pump would range from $900-$1,100, which would last a long time,” says Perry.

So why are the report’s numbers so high?

In an interview with NCC, Sally Roth of Johnston Architects explained that her report is “conceptual” and that a contractor provided her the numbers.  Roth says she helped organize the numbers and break the project into phases. “Not until this gets turned into a real project will it be more detailed,” she says.

The contractor that provided the numbers for Roth’s report is a company called Turnstone Construction, which specializes in, according to their website, “designing and building naturalistic habitats and water features for public, commercial, and residential clients.” NCC attempted to contact Turnstone multiple times to understand how many hours of labor a project like this would entail, what models of sanitation systems and pumps would be used, and their specific costs. Turnstone has not replied.

Looking for answers, NCC contacted Chuck Davis, Director of Facilities, to ask what specifically was malfunctioning or in need of upgrades regarding the Tsutakawa Fountain or its electrical or plumbing system. What plumbing issues affect the fountain renovation? Are there legal requirements for sterilizing the water or installing a railing?  How much did the school pay to Sally Roth or her employer, Johnston Architects, for the $99,540 “conceptual” report?

Davis declined to talk with NCC reporters, and forwarded questions to Janet Grimley, Interim Director of Communications. Grimley has not replied to those questions forwarded from Davis, nor responded to multiple e-mails queries.

NCC was informed by district staff that it would have to wait three months before the college would fulfill a public records request for documents relating to the Tsutakawa Fountain project, including a request for the cost of the Roth report.

NCC invited President Killpatrick to make a statement concerning his position on the fountain’s reconstruction and recent fundraising efforts, but he has not replied.

State law requires three bids on projects over $5,000 funded by public dollars.

Tina Young, Director of Multicultural Services and a member of the Tsutakawa fountain committee, told NCC that “The President’s Council said that they would not approve any work done or initiate anything beyond securing this one estimate, i.e., bidding out for a more accurate cost of repairs and restoration, until the committee had the funds in hand.”

But Young also had good news. “When we asked if we could approach the project in stages, i.e., raise funds for first, the repair and cleaning of the bricks and have that done, they said that would be O.K.”

Given that Fountain committee has raised over $20,000, that should mean the fountain restoration could start immediately.


Number of student that signed a petition that ASC allocate $9,000 to the Tsutakawa fund: 700

Amount of money ASC allocated: $4,499.99

Approximate amount per foot for railing around fountain, according to consultant’s report: $1,000

Amount fundraised by community organizing alone: over $20,000

Number of Seattle Central administrators in attendance for the biggest fundraising effort to date for the fountain: 0

Amount over which state law requires three bids for construction projects funded by public dollars:  $5,000.

Health codes, regulations or laws requiring sterilization of indoor water features: 0

Official statements regarding recent fundraising efforts and restoration of the fountain from the administration: 0

Follow Managing Editor Alia Marsha on Twitter @aliamarsha96


  1. Excellent reporting! Please demand that the SCCD public records you asked for be provided to you in accordance with Washington state open public records law. Three months they tell you you’ll have to wait for them? That’s as absurd as the price administrators put on restoring the fountain. Here is a link to the internet handbook on public records law issued by the Washington State Attorney General’s office:

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