The Starting Point

In the spring of 2011, the city of Stevens Point, Wis., began the historic Mathias Mitchell Downtown Square Redevelopment Project.

The landscape architecture firm Rettler Corporation partnered with the city, from the master planning to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The following is the process that made the project a success, as well as advice for anyone planning for a water feature.

Planning And Design

The first step to a successful water feature (fountain, splash pad, spray pad) involves public input and planning. Does the community want a water feature included in the project? Is there a need?

In the first stages of the redevelopment project, the vision for the downtown square focused on the revitalization and functional improvement to the space. The existing site was arranged in a quadrant layout with parking in three of the four quadrants, and a canopy that housed the historic farmers’ market in the fourth. The entire space was intersected by Main and Second streets.

Several task-force meetings were held with the public and downtown businesses to listen to needs, document those needs in concept plans, and then transform the plans into a master plan.

That vision created a continuous central plaza space with a water feature as a focal point, visually tying the downtown square to the nearby Wisconsin River. The plaza space was designed to draw visitors year-round, and will be the new home of the farmers’ market, nearly doubling its capacity.

Special events can be easily accommodated here with the ability to expand the space by 20 feet with a unique movable bollard layout.

Vehicle circulation was rerouted from the existing grid to include a circle drive with parallel and perpendicular parking, creating more exposure to downtown storefronts, and reducing vehicle/pedestrian interaction.

The outer walks are expansive with abundant plantings to create visual corridors and welcome shade in the summer. Outdoor café space was also created with the expansion of the pedestrian promenades on the perimeter of the square.

The landscape architect asked several key questions about the proposed water feature at this critical time:

• What is the budget for the water feature?

• Do you want a permanent pool, or an interactive water feature?

• Will it run 24/7, or will there be a programmed sequence?

• What hours will the program run?

• If the program runs at night, will there be lighting integrated?

• Is there a water source available, or must one be created?

• Are there other public facilities adjacent to the proposed fountain?

This is a reasonable list to get started because the designer needs to understand what the owner is expecting.

After the master-plan vision was set in place, and a water feature was definitely to be included, the construction-document process began.

The next step in successfully designing any water feature is to understand public-health safety and welfare regulations, and apply them to a specific design. Every state has different procedures, and certain county health departments have regulations that go beyond the statutes. Understanding these regulations is critical to the success of a water-feature project.

Next, the water source must be determined. Will a well have to be drilled? Is the system going to recycle water, or pass through? Not only regulations, but upfront and ongoing costs of the system must be evaluated for the owner to understand all of the options and costs.

Integration of a water-feature system into the landscape also is critical. Are the users of the space going to see the water feature, or the water-feature equipment? Control systems, water sources, filtration, catchment and storage for water recycling, if included, must all be planned for and integrated in the final design.

The last thing people want to see or hear after the investment in a water feature is whirring and humming equipment. Landscape areas can be carefully placed to hide the water-feature equipment, keeping the attention on the feature itself.

Construction Management

Construction began on the Stevens Point downtown square in March 2011. A detailed traffic-control and project-logistics plan kept the downtown businesses open during construction. Public-input sessions and meetings with business owner groups showed the importance of keeping Main Street open and people moving through the space.

Daily cleanup and safety-control plans also were developed.

Critical services included detailed supervision, coordination, layout and project oversight of site demolition, underground-utilities installation, concrete curbing and flatwork, detailed planter and ornamental-fence installation, brick paver in pier construction, overhead-utility relocation underground, irrigation, fountain, and landscape installation.

These ensured that the owner was getting the final design as planned. The project was completed July 4, 2011.


After planning, design, bidding, and construction management, the owner of a new water feature must understand the ongoing operations and maintenance required. The manufacturer of the equipment should provide detailed information regarding seasonal maintenance procedures, replacement parts, and control equipment.

A water feature can be a powerful design element and focal point in the landscape, but it is critical to find the need, function, and proper location of that feature. With public input, and a detailed planning process, a water feature can be a new identity for revitalization projects.

John Kneer, RLA, ASLA, is a Project Manager and Landscape Architect for Rettler Corporation in Stevens Point, Wis. For more information, visit