Commonwealth Journal

September 17, 2013

Fountain Square Soap Opera

Somerset Police taking sudsy fountain seriously

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble.
The common malapropism of a familiar line from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was applicable to the scene in downtown Somerset Monday morning, as the new Fountain Square received its maiden sudsing.  
Tiffany Bourne, Pulaski County’s Community Development Director, was the one to oversee the project and has taken great pride in the new-look fountain. Still, she took the prank in stride.
“Kids will be kids,” she said. “It’s a local tradition. It didn’t hurt my feelings any.
“Back in high school, with the seniors and the sports teams, I can’t lie, we did it too,” she added. “It’s just a part of Somerset.”
Indeed, for decades, idle hands made detergent their playthings. A favorite pastime of local teens has been putting soap in the fountain on the town square, causing a massive amount of white, fluffy bubbles to materialize in the shallow pool.
It’s proven mostly harmless, with only a bit of trouble on the part of those tasked with removing the bubbles, but still, it was a rite of passage Bourne had hoped to prevent.
Bourne had billed the new fountain — part of a million-dollar square overhaul scheduled to be officially unveiled October 4; the fountain actually started flowing in mid-August — as having “anti-suds technology.”
Inserted into the water was a special chemical substance that would “eat” the bubbles, as Bourne put it.
Ideally, the suds-dissipation would take about an hour. Bourne noted that it took a little bit longer Monday, however. Work crews even took to blowing some of the bubbles out with lawn equipment to hurry along the removal.
“It’s a bigger pool than the one (engineers) had been testing it in,” said Bourne.
Still, “if we didn’t have it in there, the bubbles probably would have flowed into the streets,” she added. “(The chemicals) kept it contained.”
 Even though Bourne was expecting the sudsing to eventually happen, it’s still not something that’s okay to do. Bourne said the county does have cameras positioned to observe anyone involved in such monkeyshines, and is actually in the process of putting better cameras in place.
Plus, shampooing the fountain is a criminal offense — seriously. Capt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department could warrant a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for those responsible. However, he believed it might be more likely to draw a charge of criminal mischief — a felony.
“(The fountain) is so large, it could do a lot of damage,” said Smith. And it’s expensive — so keep in mind that anything worth more than $1,000 in destruction could fetch a penalty of one to five years in jail.
Smith said his department has received about 10 to 12 complaints since the fountain opened about people climbing on it, wading in the pool, and general horseplay around the fountain.
It’s dangerous, he noted, because there are lights in the fountain — and water and electricity prove a dangerous combination. If something went wrong, somebody could be severely injured or even die.
“People dangling their feet in (the water) don’t realize the dangers,” said Smith, who suggested signs posted around the fountain warning citizens not to get in the water would be helpful.
Still, even Smith knows people are going to do just that — and this most recent sudsing likely won’t be the last.
“I was just driving to work and saw it going around the square like anybody else did,” said Bourne. “I was just waiting for it to happen.”