Mooney Grove’s lily pond sees second chance for restoration

Board of Supervisors decides to look at actual cost for restoration of the lily pond, not ruling out private funds for restoration

By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – Sometimes it just takes one voice to make a difference. Or, in this case three. When John Rodgers, Susan Lucas and Patricia Knoch spoke up at a recent Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board listened.

The discussion centered on the Mooney Grove lily pond. Thought to have been built in the 1930s, the pond was once vibrant with a fountain, fish, and of course, lilies, but the pond has been inactive for years and in very poor condition. Last year, the Board in feeling the possible restoration of the pond would be cost prohibitive, voted to have a community-driven artwork display worked into the original structure.

With the aid of the Arts Consortium, a contest was held awarding the project to Garden Street Art Studio in Visalia. Two runners-up each received a $500 prize for their entry work. The Garden Street Art Studio was allotted $15,000 for its project which was to get underway this spring.

But, as County staff examined the pond more closely, it was found to be structurally unsound, said Brooke Sisk, assistant general services director for Tulare County Parks and Recreation. Three contractors voluntarily looked at the pond on their own time and felt it to be “dangerously fragile,” she said.

As such, the staff recommendation was for the existing pond to be torn down and replaced with prefabricated monument integrating the Garden Street Art Studio’s mosaic concept. The estimated $78,000 redo was backed by members of the County’s Park Commission including Nancy Hawkins, who said the potential cost of fully restoring the lily pond seemed “astronomical.”

“It’s time to move on,” she said.

Tulare County historical president Kevin Caskey concurred. He compared the pond to other former entities and residents of the park such as buffalo, elk, and a zoo with monkeys, indicating that those are things of the past and so should be the lily pond.

“It’s antiquated, it should go,” he said.

But Rodgers begged to differ. He lives near the park and said local residents don’t want the pond torn down, although he agrees a projected amount of $300,000 to $450,000 to restore the pond is high. When asked by Supervisor Amy Shuklian if he thought fundraising may be a possibility to aid in the cost, Rodgers said he felt it could be.

“It really seems a shame to rip away one of the last traditions there,” Lucas said. “I’m in favor of restoring the pond. It’s a legacy of the park.”

Lucas also commented that she was glad to see the trees coming back and some of the grass being green again, but the park still looked shabby and restoring the pond would be a step in the right direction.

Board of Supervisors chairman Kuyler Crocker asked Sisk whether there is a sense of urgency in the pond’s condition and asked how dangerous it is to the public in its current state. The consensus was that it isn’t any more dangerous than it was a month ago, or a year ago for that matter, and they could take the time for further consideration. Crocker was also in favor of the possibility of private fundraising for a potential restoration project should the County decide to go that way.

Shuklian asked for more than the vague approximation of $300,000 to $450,000 for full restoration, and suggested the County consider having an actual line-by-line estimate.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel commented that there are numerous parks in the county that need attention.

“It’s not all about one park,” he said.

But, he was supportive of Shuklian’s request for a thorough evaluation by a professional.

In the end, the Board asked staff to open that evaluation up for a request for proposals, and to revisit those proposals at a future meeting. “It’s not just a swan song. A complete evaluation will cost about 10 to 12 percent of the full cost of a potential restoration,” Sisk said. The Board is investing in the consideration of a restoration.

The RFP should be out within a couple of weeks. “Since the meeting,” she said, “community members have indicated their interest in moving forward to raise funds with restoration in mind.”

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