The long wait for an enormous state-of-the-art splash pad on the city’s East Side is scheduled to end June 1.
Over the objections of some in the community, City Hall took the slow and steady approach to finishing the animated water feature in Martin Luther King Park, choosing to closely monitor the contractor’s work instead of going to court.
City officials and even a chief critic of the project’s delays were beaming Thursday, when the first tests of the 300 fountains that dot the five-acre splash pad began.
“We’re pleased with everything we’ve seen,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown, over the sound of water splashing behind him. “We’ve tested and pressure-tested and monitored every single day for quite a period of time.”
Over the last year, Samuel A. Herbert, of the Coalition to Save Martin Luther King Park, frequently alerted the media to the delays in progress at the splash pad. But on Thursday, he praised City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak and said he was happy with the outcome.
“I just want to highlight the positive,” he said. “Everybody should be smiling.”
Testing is expected to last two weeks until the June 1 opening date for all of the city’s splash pads.
The complex project cost at least $4.5 million, and more than half of that paid for the concrete basin of the water feature. The basin hides the electronic equipment that controls the sophisticated fountains and four miles of pipes.
The splash pad had been expected to open last year, but there were construction delays on a project that city officials called “complicated.”
“If we would have held up and went through a legal issue and held the whole project up, we wouldn’t be to this point today,” said Stepniak, who made daily trips to the park to monitor the work of the city’s contractor, Man O’ Trees.
Man O’ Trees owner David Pfeiffer could not be reached to comment Thursday.
“You see a situation where DPW was monitoring every day, where the community was out, on the scene, watching this,” Brown said.
“And now, because we were diligent and we put in a process where there was daily monitoring, where there was regular pressure-testing ... this will be done, and it will be done the right way.”
The basin can accommodate 1,500 people. It will be a splash pad in the summer and a reflecting pool in the spring and fall. In the winter the shallow water is expected to freeze and create an ice rink, for which the city is preparing an operations plan.
In summer, the splash pad won’t hold any standing water but will feature 15-foot-high water sprays that can be animated and set to different patterns through a computer in City Hall.
Colorful lights in the concrete basin and in the base of a light standard in the middle of the basin will reflect off the water.
More gentle sprays suitable for infants will be marked with signs in the northwest corner of the basin.
The concrete mixture has never been used in Western New York and is specially designed not to crack. It is expected to last 50 years, Stepniak said.
Lynda Jemison, 26, who was at the park Thursday with her daughter and her cousin, said the work has moved slowly, but she added that she will be back this summer.
“As long as it gets here, that’s all that matters,” she said.
The park, north of Best Street at Fillmore Avenue, is the site of the Buffalo Museum of Science. The city has installed new picnic shelters in the park and awarded a $2.2 million contract for a new streetscape on Fillmore extending south from East Ferry Street into the park.
The streetscape includes new paving, sidewalks, benches, landscaping and lighting.
A wading pool in the park, just yards away from the splash pad, will open with all other city pools July 1.