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Since You Asked: Lithia Fountain is on budget

The City of Ashland has budgeted up to $35,000 for the restoration of the Plaza's Lithia Water fountain. The project includes the work of a historical consultant, extensive design work, exhaustive Internet searches, the personal delivery to Portland of an antique water basin, water basin castings, replacement granite shipped in from Georgia to be carved locally, new plumbing, a new replica sign, and the fabrication of a steel armature.

Has the Lithia Fountain project remained on budget? And if so, how has the city done it considering the many moving parts of this complicated restoration project?

— Larry S., Jacksonville

Like all interesting stories, Ashland's lithia water fountain restoration has bad guys (vandals who trashed it repeatedly, even though it sits in the most public spot in Ashland) and good guys who took a genuine, gee-whiz interest in it and wanted to see it brought back to its original glory of the 1920s.

When the whole eight-basin fountain finally looked beyond help after the latest and most severe vandal attack, the city budgeted $35,000 from the water utility fund and, though all the invoices won't be paid until it's assembled and plumbed next month, it looks like $20,000 has already been spent and it will be "pretty darn close" to coming in at budget, says Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison Sr.

Morrison knew the complexities of historic restoration were beyond the scope of the city, so he got a willing George Kramer, Ashland's noted historian, to scour the nation to find the most authentic bubblers (spigots, without valves, made in Cincinnati), a historic porcelain basin (to be recast in multiples in Portland) and the middle of three granite sections for the body of the fountain.

The basins will tie into a steel frame inside the granite edifice and that will anchor to the ground. Hard to break. Another heart-warming part of the restoration, says Kramer, is that the granite will be assembled and polished by Oregon Granite Co., of Medford, whose ancestors probably made the original fountain. Oregon Granite has been in the same family, the Westerfields, for more than a century.

"In the great scheme of things, it's not a lot of money," said Kramer. "The city budgeted a reasonable amount and it's coming in at or below budget. There's a lot of controversy in Ashland and everyone seems to pick on city staff, so this is one of those rare, feel-good stories."