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Chester County Press

East Marlborough supervisors approve Longwood Fountain Garden repairs

07/09/2014 07:52PM ● By Acl

The Main Fountain Garden at Longwood will look much the same to visitors after renovations are completed in 2017.

By John Chambless

Staff Writer

The six-acre Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens will get a long-delayed makeover in the next two years. The plan was outlined for the East Marlborough board of supervisors on July 7 by Mike Petka of Bancroft Construction, a company that is working on the renovations.

Petka said the south wall of the garden has been fenced off for 20 years due to structural defects, and the piping for the fountains -- dating to the 1930s -- is prone to failure and leaks, losing "tens of thousands of gallons per day," he said.

The restoration and technology upgrade will retain what Petka called "the legacy view," meaning the appearance of the Main Fountain Garden will remain the same. Among the repairs will be the decommissioning of the original fountain pumps and the construction of a new underground structure nearby that will hold modern pumps. The original machinery will be preserved as an exhibit. Decayed or damaged balusters along the walls of the garden will be repaired or recast, a 1970 addition to the west end of the garden will be removed, and stairs will be added on the east end of the garden to allow access in that corner. An elevator will be installed to meet federal access requirements. Seating will be installed along the edge of canal area and the south wall so that visitors can sit near the fountains when they're in operation. 

"We've done an extensive historical analysis of the site as part of this work," Petka said, "and we will be preserving the historic structure as much as possible."

Stone work will, in some cases, be removed, repaired and reassembled, so that visitors will see no difference, but the structure will be much more stable. All the lights and water features will benefit from the upgrade, and will have additional capabilities, Petka said. Virtually all the piping and electrical wiring will be replaced, and the pumps will operate independently, so that if one fails, the whole system won't fail.

The restoration is expected to start this fall and will take about two years to complete. The full reopening is scheduled in 2017. 

Petka called the Fountain Garden "a wonderful space" and said that for his company, "it's an honor to work on it."

The board unanimously approved of the project, which had been previously approved by the township's historic commission.

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Unionville resident Jack Greenwood asked the board if there was any progress on his prior complaints about a garage that was demolished near his home last spring. 

The garage had once stood behind a home in the heart of the village that is being converted into apartments.Greenwood has previously told the supervisors that contractors removed most of the roof of the garage in December and left the building open to the snow and rain. Greenwood said that was a violation of the township's historic structure ordinance, which specifies that buildings judged to be historic must be protected by their owners.

Contractors further undermined the foundation of the garage, leading to its complete collapse in April, Greenwood said. "I can't remember another case where a building has fallen down in Unionville," he told the board. "That building has stood for 80 years. It's the work that was being done on it that caused it to collapse.

"The builder was at fault," Greenwood added, "and the architect was at fault for his design. I think there were all sorts of violations here. I hope that the township will do a little more thorough investigation into what went on."

Board president Cuyler Walker told Greenwood that the township building inspector had found that the rubble foundation of the garage was "not sufficient to support the building, and while they were working to shore up the building, it failed." Walker said the building inspector had met with the builder and "they evaluated what was done, and no further action was taken."

About an hour of the meeting was devoted to a complaint by resident Jim Sinclair, who presented photos and other documentation of repeated flooding on his property due to what he called faulty storm water basins and the repositioning of a drainage pipe that is discharging water on an adjacent property owned by Anthony Dambro. 

Sinclair's farm, at 160 E. Street Rd., is near the Willowdale Town Center and a low-lying property that Dambro has been trying to sell for residential development. When Dambro's proposal for an apartment complex was denied, he has been working to dry out part of the land. Sinclair maintains that those efforts have resulted in damage to his property. He said that new sinkholes have formed in his lower pasture, and the entire site is underwater during a heavy rain.

"There is erosion on a massive scale taking place on our property since we moved in 12 years ago," Sinclair told the board. "The water coming downstream is out of control."

In an exchange that grew heated, Sinclair and Walker tangled over Sinclair's mentioning that "a deal has been reached" with Dambro to allow development to proceed.

"Jim, don't use language like that," Walker said sharply, explaining that Dambro had once wanted to remove several trees on his property, but the board stopped him. Dambro began legal proceedings to fight the judgment but eventually dropped the suit and repositioned the drain pipe, allowing the trees to stand.

"We can't stop the rain from falling," Walker told Sinclair. "You bought low-lying property."

The discussion calmed down as township engineer Jim Hatfield explained, step by step, how the drainage basins are intended to function and expressed his opinion that, while one of them is retaining some water, they are functioning properly. Dambro has not violated any ordinances, even though Sinclair and board members agree that his actions look like he may be planning to develop the property eventually. Township solicitor Frone Crawford pointed out that Dambro "has no development approval" at this point, and all of his actions have been legal.

Sinclair said, "What this boils down to is that I bought the property with a conservancy easement. How can I uphold my easement on a property that sustains major damage? I'm trying to keep the stream corridor restored, but the trees are falling into the stream and washing away. What am I supposed to do?

"For me to be standing here, 12 years later, and have you say, 'You bought low-lying land,' well, it's more complicated than that," Sinclair told Walker. "I'm tired of being here. It's not pleasant for anybody. I hope these pictures that I have supplied will speak volumes to you."

Walker said, "I have tried to reach out to you anytime there is public meeting on this issue. We will continue to try to make sure you don't feel left out of the loop."

Sinclair said, "I'm not asking you to phone God -- that's silly. But the technology we're using has problems. And this is probably not the last time I'll be before this board about the Dambro site."