A fish in the fountain – a restoration project

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Ashburton Contracting Ltd plumbing division manager Aaron Gairns, Throwin' Shapes Glass artist Tash Sim, St Joseph's School pupil Ben Ciron and Laser Electrical manager Brent Christie at the McElhinney Water Fountain restoration launch. Photo Toni Williams.

By Toni Williams

The McElhinney Water Fountain, on the corner of Havelock and West streets in downtown Ashburton, is again in top working order after a collaborative effort to restore it.

It has spent many seasons out of action.

The fountain, also a drinking fountain, was bequeathed to Ashburton by the late Myra and Bob McElhinney in the early 1980s. The couple, who had a hairdressing business on Tancred Street and lived on Cameron Street, had no children and left $5000 to the Ashburton community at the death of Myra who died in 1981; Bob died in 1977.

According to family members at the time, Bob wanted a fountain to be near the war memorial as he had served in war for four and a half years. After Myra’s death, two bequests were made; one was $2000 to maintain and repair the town clock, and the other for a construction of a fountain. The location and design was finalised by a Borough Council sub-committee set up to handle the request.

The fountain, designed and executed by Hampton Studios, of Christchurch, was officially unveiled on June 15, 1984.

In its time it was top of the line, but of late has sat idle and in need of attention.

Ashburton Contracting Ltd (ACL) plumbing division manager Aaron Gairns remembered the fountain from his childhood, travelling past it each day on the way to primary school. It irked him that it was not working.

“If you see one fountain on your best corner not going, what do you do?,”especially for someone working in water, he said.

He approached the Ashburton District Council to set the wheels in motion for its restoration. And also contacted Ashburton Museum to find out more about the McElhinney’s and the “benevolent actions of a couple who did so much for Ashburton”.

With ACL, Laser Electrical and Throwin’ Shapes Glass on board, their charitable restoration project got under way.

Mr Gairns said what started as a simple project was more involved than first thought.

The brick work was cleaned with a dry ice compound to prevent water blasting damage, then covered in a protective coating, the drinking tap changed, decking seat replaced and the internal workings sorted.

Laser Electrical manager Brent Christie said in the end a new water pumping system was installed as well as warm LED strip lighting under the fountain pools and display flood lights.

Glass artist Tash Sim crafted a bespoke purple tinged, with silver fleck, glass salmon – the result of three separate firings at 812 degree temperatures – to adorn the frontage of the fountain.

The salmon replaces an existing copper mounted salmon and was a tribute to Mr McElhinney’s enjoyment of fishing.

The three businesses efforts all came to a close at the restoration launch last week with a push of a button by St Joseph’s School Year 7 pupil Ben Ciron. He got to be the first to use the drinking fountain in front of the businesses involved, Ben’s school peers and members of the public. There was also a sausage sizzle.

Ben earned the right after winning a mini-quiz about the fountain and its restoration.