ITHACA, N.Y. — The newly finished fountain on the Ithaca Commons has been shut down by order of the Tompkins County Health Department.

The fountain was shut down early Wednesday due to health concerns.

The fountain was designed by Sasaki Associates and heralded at a ribbon cutting May 1 as the last piece of the Ithaca Commons redesign. It cost $466,000 to create, and its price tag has been a source of controversy among some in the community.

As a way of limiting water use, the fountain was recycling water.

Related: City celebrates last piece of Ithaca Commons redesign with finished fountain

The recycled, recirculated water is what concerns the Tompkins County Health Department, said Frank Kruppa, director of the Tompkins County Health Department.

“We were made aware that the fountain is using recirculated water. Because of that and the fact that we have witnessed folks coming into contact with the water, the fountain as it stands, as we understand it today, would fall under our Water Rule. We’ve instructed the city to turn off the water at this point to eliminate any potential risks while we get a chance talk to them about next steps,” Kruppa said.

Kruppa said when water is being recirculated, they generally have concerns about it being treated properly because there can be issues with bacteriological growth.

Next, Kruppa said the environmental health staff at the Health Department will meet with city officials to understand the full design of the system. Kruppa said the Health Department was included in early discussion about the fountain, but he said after that “the city went forward with their plans and we did not have a presence.”

In an email sent to city officials, shared with The Ithaca Voice, the Tompkins County Health Department told the city Wednesday to immediately shut off the water to the Commons water feature until “signage, fencing and/or other measures are taken to restrict access to the water feature.” The health department told the city that staff had seen children playing the fountain on multiple occasions and cited concerns with water-borne illness and with the wet granite being slippery.

The Health Department told city officials that it considers the city to be “effectively operating” a recreational aquatic spray ground without a permit.

Ultimately, Kruppa said, the Health Department wants to make sure the fountain is safe for the community.

“The main issue here is that people are coming into contact with it. That contact with the recirculated, untreated water is a concern from a water exposure standpoint as well as the safety issues that are associated with folks climbing on the wet rock,” Kruppa said.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said the city shared the final plans for the fountain with the Tompkins County Health Department, including that it would be using recirculated water.

However, Myrick said the city shut down the fountain as soon as it got the letter from the Health Department and said the city will be working to resolve the issue. They may have to add signage telling people not to go in the fountain or a small railing to make it clear the fountain is aesthetic and not for playing in.

“If they say it’s unsafe, we’ll work with them,” Myrick said. He added that the fountain has added “great vitality and life to the middle of the Commons.”

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.