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No clean getaway for Washington Park fountain vandals

Security camera footage helps capture those who soaped Downers Grove fountain

The pranksters who reportedly put soap in the Washington Park fountain did not make a clean getaway this time around thanks to a review of security camera footage.

The fountain has been a frequent target of suds over the years, said Dawn Hartman, director of marketing and community engagement for the Downers Grove Park District.

“However, between Aug. 2 and 15, the fountain was soaped five times,” Hartman said. “This ongoing vandalism was pulling our staff from other important tasks throughout the district.”

While the names of the pranksters are not being released because they are juveniles, the park district will seek restitution from the individuals, Hartman said.

The cleanup for a fountain filled with foam comes with a hefty price tag. Hartman said depending on the type of soap used and the extent of the damage, each incident can cost the district up to $1,000.

“When bubbles are dumped into the fountain, it requires hours of staff time to clean and repair the internal system of the fountain,” she said. “Soap clogs the filters in the fountain. When the fountain is soaped, defoaming agents must be added to the fountain to prevent algae growth in order to keep the water clean and clear and to keep the filters running properly. The fountain requires 2,785 gallons of water plus additional water for cleaning.”

The endeavor also requires several hours of manpower.

“Between draining and cleaning the fountain plus investigation and communication to resolve this issue, our team spent approximately 13 staff hours on this recent incident,” Hartman said.

The latest incidents also were enough to prompt officials to empty the Washington Park Fountain and post a sign saying the local landmark would “remain drained until further notice.” Park officials also offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the individuals who “soaped” the fountain.

“Knowing that the soaping was occurring on a nearly daily basis over the last week, the temporary draining was intended to give the park district time to identify the individuals responsible and to ask for the community’s assistance in curbing this behavior,” Hartman said. “We anticipate refilling the fountain early next week to get it up and running again.”

Washington Park has been equipped with cameras to monitor the fountain for several years, Hartman said.

“The footage taken assisted the Downers Grove Police Department in identifying the individuals responsible for the vandalism,” she said.

City and park fountains often are the target of soaping pranks, Hartman said.

“Unfortunately, other destructive pranks and vandalism are more prevalent at our other park facilities,” she said.

Officials have been seeing a rise in reports of vandalism because of an increase in social media challenges.

For example, toilets at Gilbert Park were vandalized recently. A large amount of toilet paper was found in the toilets, rocks were discovered in the sinks, soap dispensers were broken off the walls and bathroom signs were removed from the building, according to a Downers Grove Police Department report.

“Many times, these acts of vandalism are thought to be harmless pranks, when in fact, it costs taxpayer dollars,” Hartman said. “The park district continues to ask residents to report any vandalism to the Downers Grove Police Department.”