Funny how everybody with a keyboard becomes an expert when a news story breaks…
Take Crown Center closing its fountains this week to public bathing. On one hand you’ve got a local blogger claiming a "TKC exclusive" because he says he was first to "break" the news. Hello. When a large, local corporation makes a grand announcement and sends out press releases that’s not a scoop.
Then there local TV stations to whom capturing a live body on location comes first. To the point that a nearby snowcone truck sales dude’s opinion of what the fountain’s closing means to KC got front-and-center treatment.
Ridiculously, Fox 4 News even managed to get a local lawyer to say that if a "kid was running around there and slipped and bumped their head I probably would not take the case."
The idea being, why would Crown Center close its fountain over of minor liability worries?
However, in the wide world of clear, intelligent thinking, while the attorney probably wouldn’t take the case if a kid scraped his knee either…
What if he fell while playing in the fountain and was paralyized from the neck down?
So of course we got some meaningful TV reporting there.
Finally, a Kansas City Star columnist with a nose for uninteresting news finally found a topic she could get some traction on and penned a very well-written column. Unfortunately it was based on the faulty premise that "behavior by a few ruined Crown Center fountain."
Quite the opposite.
It was behavior by the many that "ruined" public use of the fountain. Too many people were going, hanging out and racing about while probably going to the bathroom while in it. More kids were going – not fewer – according to Crown Center, because of its new Lego and aquarium kiddie magnets.
So great column, but not very great thinking.
Hats off however to said columnist however for noting that – unlike virtually every swimming pool in the town – there are no bathrooms near the fountains. And to my knowledge, no clearly posted signs directing people to where such distant bathrooms might be found.
So of course the kiddies were gonna go…just like the birds overhead.
In response to my reporting update from 1998 in which the KC Health Deptartment said it had no jurisdiction over the fountain because it was not a swimming pool, Fox 4 fired back: "The Health Department says Crown Center has always passed water inspections."
Always is a pretty long time – 40 years in this case. And as far as Health Department spokesman Jeff Hershberger knows, "always" at Crown Center began in 2008 after "some pretty big changes when the pool ordinances were expanded to include spray grounds and Crown Center started applying for permits to have (the fountain) as a spray ground," he says. "And they do have a water filtration system in place that is similar to what swimming pools have."
That’s the good news. Now the bad.
"It’s very difficult for any spray ground to keep the chemicals perfectly in line because there’s so many people running through them, playing and sitting on the nozzles," Hershberger says. "I mean, it’s difficult enough for pools."
And again, not because there are so "few," but rather because there are so many using it.
With everything else the faraway bathrooms couldn’t have helped, Hershberger says.
"When I was a little kid you had to go through the bathroom and take a shower before you could get in the pool," he says. "That’s not the case at Crown Center, and it’s hard to collect the water (to treat it properly) on a spray ground. And while people today have swim diapers, they don’t necessarily change diapers properly."
In 1998 now-deceased Health Department honcho E.J. Olomiye told me, no way he’d let his kids go in the water at Crown Center Country Club.
Raising the question, would Hershberger?
"With the system they have now, I’d be more comfortable," he hedges. "But would I put my face in that water? No. I have enough problem putting my face in the private pools where I know how the water is being kept up."
Hershberger’s take on why Crown Center came to its senses so suddenly and decided to close the fountain to the public?
"I think at the heart of it is it’s because of what the national trends are for spray grounds," he says. "And that is to have a secondary water treatment system in place rather than just a regular system like you would see in a pool. But I don’t know if they’re looking ahead or if they’re looking at the liability or what."