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Rotarians want to revitalize once-proud fountain

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of December 28, 2023)

The Centennial Fountain at Pocahontas Park, erected by the county’s five Rotary clubs in 2005 to commemorate the organization’s 100th anniversary, has become a downtown eyesore, suffering from a lack of maintenance and respect.

Most days, in fact, the once-celebrated monument serves as a gathering place for the neighborhood’s troublesome homeless population, which uses the fountain to bathe and wash clothes.

Now, the Vero Beach area’s Rotary clubs want to refurbish the structure and, possibly, create a landscaped buffer or install fencing to prevent people from entering or touching the water.

“We recognize we need to do something,” Marty Lewis, assistant governor for the county’s Rotary clubs, told the Vero Beach City Council. “We don’t want the fountain to go away, but we don’t like the way it’s deteriorated somewhat.”

Lewis said the clubs plan to collaborate to preserve and protect the fountain that cost $77,000 to build but, in recent years, has become an “attractive nuisance.”

He said two of the Vero Beach-area clubs already have committed to the project and, based on recent conversations, he believes all four will join the effort, which will include retaining the actual fountain.

Earlier this year, the City Council expressed concerns about the current condition of the fountain, including how it has been overtaken by the homeless people who roam the downtown area, and discussed the possibility of converting the structure into a planter.

Lewis, however, said the clubs want to retain the fountain’s “water feature” and rebuild its “kind of crumbling” façade using a coquina-type tile.

City Councilman John Carroll, who is also a Rotary member, said he has met with Lewis and former Main Street Vero Beach president Daniel Fourmont to talk about the fountain’s fate and that no final decision has been made regarding the water element.

If the Rotarians refurbish the still-functioning fountain, who will cover the cost of its maintenance?

“We have a bad track record of maintaining it,” Mayor John Cotugno said, later adding, “We run a lean city.”

When the Rotary clubs gifted the fountain to the city in 2005, Lewis said, they did so with the understanding that the city would maintain it. Three years later, however, the Great Recession hit and the city was forced to cut nearly one-third of its staff.

As a result, regular and preventative maintenance of many city properties, including the fountain, was noticeably reduced.

“Maintenance just became, ‘When you can get there …,” City Manager Monte Falls said.

The council asked Falls to investigate whether the city, when it accepted the fountain from the Rotarians, committed to maintaining the structure. If no written contract exists, Cotugno said the city and clubs would need to come to a maintenance agreement.

“So you’re going to be willing to enter into a contract with the city to maintain the fountain over a period of time?” Cotugno asked Lewis.

Lewis said he needed to discuss the matter with the clubs.

After the meeting, Cotugno suggested the Rotary clubs engage with Main Street Vero Beach in its fountain efforts.

“You’ve got the Main Street folks working to revitalize Pocahontas Park, and you’ve got Rotary wanting to refurbish and maintain the fountain,” the mayor said. “It seems like a match made in heaven.”

Carroll said the clubs first need to firm up their plans, including those pertaining to maintenance, before returning to the council. That’s unlikely to happen before February, he added.

In the meantime, he said, Falls can search for any relevant documents regarding the clubs’ turnover of the fountain to the city.

“The clubs can price out the alternatives, decide which way to go, then come back to the city,” Carroll said. “The important thing was to get things moving. That’s why I put it on our agenda.

“The Rotary Club of Vero Beach will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in two years,” he added, “and it would be nice to have the fountain fixed as soon as possible.”

Founded in 1926, the Vero Beach club was the first in the community.