Parkersburg files petition for fountain funds

File Photo The Jackson Memorial Fountain in Parkersburg City Park is shown in October, shortly after being severely damaged by high winds.

PARKERSBURG — The City of Parkersburg asked a judge this week to allow funds dedicated to the repair and maintenance of a damaged historic fountain in City Park to instead be used to replace it.

Parkersburg City Attorney Joe Santer filed the petition in Wood County Circuit Court, but it must also be considered by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office before a decision can be made.

The Jackson Memorial Fountain was toppled by heavy winds in October, shattering the upper bowl and the distinctive “Lady in the Lake” statue at the top.

City officials want to replicate the fountain using cast iron bowls like it originally had when it was built in 1906 rather than the fiberglass used to replace them in the early ’90s following a lightning strike. Mayor Tom Joyce has said he wants to run new water and electric lines to the site and make other improvements while it’s being rebuilt, bringing the total cost to an estimated $370,000.

The city received a $58,830 insurance reimbursement for the damage to the fountain, and City Council in January approved allocating $150,000 from the general fund. They hope to get the remainder of the money from the Jackson Memorial Fountain fund established in 1992 by a bequest from Caroline Downey Jackson, a member of the Jackson family, a number of whom are prominent in state and local history. Among them is Jacob B. Jackson, West Virginia’s sixth governor.

But the will specifically dedicated the money to repair and maintenance. While some portions are salvageable, most are not, the petition says.

“The overall damage to the fountain is so significant and extensive as to make any repair of the fountain economically unfeasible,” it says. “For all intents and purposes, the Jackson Fountain no longer exists. As such and because of the fund’s restrictive language, the fund’s purpose has become wholly impracticable and utterly impossible to fulfill.”

The city is seeking permission to use a large portion of the fund, which has a balance of $161,170, to help purchase and erect a fountain that resembles the earlier structure as much as possible. The petition proposes keeping $15,000 in the fund for future repair and maintenance.

City officials sought the blessing of six direct heirs of Caroline Jackson to make the change. Four of the six approved and two did not respond, Santer said.

Regardless, state code requires the Attorney General’s office to be notified. Once they receive the petition, the office has 60 days to respond.

Santer said he does not know whether the office will get involved in the case. He plans to contact Wood County Circuit Judge Jason Wharton’s office in a month to tentatively schedule a hearing after the end of the 60-day period.