Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping

Keeping Outdoor Drinking Fountains Operational

Nearly 100 years after one of the first drinking fountains was created from a brass bed knob, innovations still abound, making it easier to clean and maintain these watering holes. Providing park patrons with a place to get a drink is essential, but if drinking fountains are not properly maintained, visitors will be turned off by what they perceive as unsanitary conditions. In outdoor spaces, maintenance involves everything from cleaning and sanitizing to closing up shop for the winter, if necessary.

Q: What steps can we take to ensure all drinking fountains at all of our sites are working properly?

A: Set up a maintenance schedule. An employee should be checking on each of your fountains on a regular basis to ensure they are clean and functioning properly. When a major event is taking place, these maintenance checks should be more frequent. Make a checklist: Is the fountain functioning properly? Is the water flow just right? Finally, clean and sanitize the fountain.

Q: How can I ensure the drinking fountain is clean and sanitary?

A: Patrons equate cleanliness with the quality of the water, so you're right to want to ensure your drinking fountains are spotless. First of all, you need to adjust the water stream when you install the fountain. It should be at least 3 inches away from the bubbler. This keeps people from touching the parts of the fountain with their mouths when they get a drink.

Next, you need to make sure drinking fountains are cleaned on a regular basis. This should be part of your regular maintenance check. Spray a disinfectant cleaning solution on the fountain pieces and then use a grout brush to scrub the mouthpiece and protective guard. Depending on your location, you also may need to remove lime buildup, using a descaler.

Q: We don't have enough staff to provide the regular maintenance our drinking fountains need. Is there any way to keep the fountain clean without sending someone out with soap and a scrub brush?

A: One handy way to ensure your bubbler remains clean is to purchase one of the newer drinking fountain models that protect the bubbler head from exposure and contamination. When someone presses the button, the water pressure forces a shield up that exposes the bubbler head. Once the button is released, the water pressure drops, and the shield lowers to encase the bubbler.

Q: Our drinking fountains typically have to be shut down from November through March, or the pipes are liable to burst. Are there any options that will allow us to provide park patrons with drinking water year-round?

A: Warm-weather parks departments don't have to worry about the freezes that come with winter weather. But if you live in the colder parts of the country, you likely are draining the water lines and keeping the water turned off during the winter months.

You should consider purchasing a drinking fountain that is freeze-protected. There are several ways a freeze-protected fountain can operate, but the most recent innovation is a buried valve that keeps water below the frost line.

Some of these models will drain the water below the frost line as soon as the button on the fountain is released. In areas where this is not allowed due to sanitary and building codes, look to newer models that do not drain water into the ground. Instead, these models hold the water below the frost line until another person comes up to push the button and get a drink. As their drinking water comes up, the former patron's waste water is put into the drain.


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