As workers fiddled with water pressure to the U.S. Court House’s new fountain recently, one joked, “I can’t wait for them steelheads to start jumpin’ the walls.”
No sign of steelhead yet. But the other wait - for the courthouse plaza renovation project to wrap up - is almost over.
The $1 million makeover was supposed to be finished last December. Bad weather, broken parts and stubborn leaks into the downtown building’s basement parking garage set the work back six months.
But the construction fence came down Monday. On Wednesday, crews hoisted the plaza’s 44-foot-tall flagpole into place. The fountain and “urban stream” should start gushing and gurgling any day now.
Ritch Fenrich of Spokane’s ALSC Architects, who shares credit for the design with landscape architect Rich Haag of Seattle, said the primary reason for redoing the plaza was to improve security and stop water from leaking into the garage.
“But from the outset,” Fenrich said, “this was seen as more than just a maintenance and security project.
“We recognized this is a public space,” he said, “and we wanted to include friendly characteristics similar to those of the Wall Street pedestrian mall - red brick pavers, the bright blue fountain, the sound of water. The whole project was intended as an asset to the community.”
Nine large, circular planters - each with ornamental crab-apple trees, rhododendrons, Baltic ivy and built-in benches - are strategically positioned around the plaza to keep vehicles out.
The plaza’s centerpiece is the new fountain. Jets send water rising out of a central basin and onto a large, tilted circle of blue tiles. The end of the fountain closest to the building has no curb, so passers-by can walk, Rollerblade or ride their wheelchairs through the shallow water unobstructed.
Gravity pulls the water toward the street, beneath stepping-stone pavers and over a low wall resembling, as one worker pointed out, a fish ladder.
“The previous fountain wasn’t inviting,” said Fenrich. “You could see water spouting up, but you couldn’t see the pool of water from the sidewalk. Now you can sit along the edge, and the sound of water cascading over these weirs mixes with the street sounds.”
Visitors entering the U.S. Court House pass through a revolving door mounted in a new, curving glass wall that juts into the building’s arcade, expanding the lobby and reducing congestion at the security desk.
Already, downtown workers are taking advantage of the courthouse plaza to relax in the sun, read or enjoy a sack lunch. By next winter, officials will know whether leaks into the basement garage have been eliminated.
How much the building’s security has been enhanced, though, remains to be seen.
“If someone is determined to get in,” said Fenrich, “there’s almost no way to stop him. Everything’s a compromise between being open and friendly, and being secure.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo