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Sweetser Park fountain in Amherst turned off as repairs are planned

Eighteen years after the park and its water feature, formally known as the Enos Cook Memorial Fountain, were restored through a combination of volunteer efforts, municipal support and $50,000, the fountain needs repairs.

It has been turned off because a problem has been detected that could contaminate the town’s drinking water, Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said in an email Friday.

“During a routine inspection of the fountain we found that there was the potential for a cross-connection between the fountain’s water supply and the fountain drain,” he said. “We are looking at a few devices to correct the issue.”

Mooring said there is no timeline for repair, estimated to cost between $2,000 to $3,000, which will be handled by the water department. The water department has been focused on another project, he said.

Town Manager John Musante said he has asked the DPW to fix the fountain as soon as practical.

“It’s very fixable, but we’re trying not to have an inadvertent contamination of the water supply,” Musante said.

Musante said a few residents have expressed concern to him about the dry fountain.

“Sweetser Park is a very popular hangout,” said Musante, pointing out that it is one of the best places in downtown to access the town’s wi-fi.

The park has also been a popular place for children to play and people to picnic during the warm weather months, when the wooden cover that protects the fountain and its pipes from freezing during the winter is removed.

The lack of the water feature this year comes in spite of a $20,181 gift to the town, presented in April to the Select Board by the Friends of Sweetser Park and the Amherst Rotary Club.

“This gift is to be used exclusively for the maintenance and repair of the fountain, marble, granite and engraved bricks in the park,” a letter from the organizations reads. They call the fountain “a wonderful asset to the community and a central feature of our downtown.”

Stan Ziomek, a member of the Friends and former superintendent of the Department of Public Works, said Friday that he was not aware the fountain had been turned off.

He remembers that the fountain was shut down for 20 years, from 1975 to 1995.

“The Amherst Rotary Club and Friends of Sweetser Park were instrumental in getting it back operational,” he said.

The work in the early 1990s included installing a new water circulation system and repairing the electrical systems and its stone walls.

Sweetser Park was established as a private park in 1836, and later named in memory of Luke Sweetser, an Amherst resident of the 1880s. It was given to the town in 1902.

The site was surveyed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. in the early 1900s, and in 1911 Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. used his father’s notes and designed the plantings and elevations.

The younger Olmsted and his brother also are credited with designing the fountain. Banker Enos Foster Cook left money in his will for construction of the fountain, which was built in 1914. From the time it was dedicated until around 1975, water cascaded from the fountain into a concrete basin during the summer months. The fountain is covered over to keep the pipes from freezing during the winter months.

In the early 1990s, the JayCees began a project to rehabilitate the entire park, which had become a target of vandalism.

David Keenan, a member of the JayCees at the time, said he fears that the fountain may again get boarded up permanently if a repair isn’t done soon.

“I think Sweetser Park is falling back into disarray for some of the same reasons it did 20 years ago,” Keenan said.

Nick Seamon, owner of Black Sheep Deli, who helped organize a fundraising concert for the fountain that brought in $3,000 in the 1990s, said he hadn’t noticed it not working, and no customers had mentioned it to him.

Still, he said downtown Amherst is better when the fountain is on. “It’s historic, it’s beautiful and it should be running,” Seamon said. “We want it back.”

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