BLC Approves Restoration of McKim Building Fountain

After years of chlorine degradation, the McKim Building Courtyard Fountain at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square will be renovated.

The proposal for the project came before the Boston Landmarks Commission virtually on May 26, where architect Lara Pfadt explained the work that would be done.

“The fountain is well loved by both the library and the City and is in need of repair,” she said. She went through some of the history of the fountain, explaining that at one point the statue was removed and then returned, and over time the water feature in the center of the fountain has changed.

“The majority of the work is the replacement of the tile,” Pfadt said, which has been damaned by the chlorination of the water in the fountain. This is not the original tile; it was replaced in 1999 when “lots of restoration” was done to the fountain. She said that the stone surround is original, but may have had pieces replaced during this previous restoration.

The proposed replacement tile is a white tile in a random mosaic pattern, to replicate the one that is being taken out. Pfadt said she does not know what the original tile looked like, as all the photos from the fountain’s early days show the fountain filled with water, making it difficult to see the detail of the tile.

“There is a fountain ring and a statue in the center,” Pfadt said. “Our proposal is to enclose that fountain ring and lights in a raised platform,” and she said that the fountain piping itself sits inside of that. The water would arc out similar to how it did in the 1890s, as opposed to shooting straight up as it does now.

Lights that surround the ring statue light the water as it sprays out, and four lights along the very edge of the fountain light the statue’s face only.

“Our goal is to recreate the effect they have now,” she said.

Since the chlorine in the water has caused so many issues with the tile, but the water is required to meet certain sanitation standards as a public fountain, Pfadt said they would be lowering the amount of chlorine in the water and installing a UV system to kill any germs. 

The height of the pool will not be changed and the slope will be maintained, but the water will be lowered an inch down.

“Currently the water hits right at the cap wall and the side joint—that’s the weak point,” Pfadt said. She said that the fountain engineers she has been working with recommended that the water level be “just below that.”

Pfadt said that the library will take the statue away before construction starts, and the construction team will move the granite statue base to be stored within the courtyard.

She said that right now, the plan is to begin construction in October and end next April.

The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to approve this proposal as presented with the proviso that Landmarks staff view and approve the final tile choice and specs for the grout on site.

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