ORLANDO — John Perrone, Orlando’s parks division manager, recalls standing at Lake Eola Park a few weeks ago, and being approached by a woman in her 70s who was waiting for the new music and light show on the fountain to begin.
“I’ve been over there many, many times, and two weekends ago I was there and happened to be standing with some older ladies, and one said ‘Is the show going to go on, is the show going to go on,’ and I said ‘Yes, in a few minutes,’ ” Perrone said.
When the show started, Perrone said, the woman looked positively captivated.
“She said ‘It just brings back so many memories to see this,’ “ he said. “She was visiting from Austin, Texas, and had grown up here.”
Since the Lake Eola Fountain not only reopened, but launched a new light and music show – songs are played over loudspeakers in the park, and colored lights on the fountain’s three levels change and flash in coordination to the songs – the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Perrone said.
“They absolutely love it,” he said. “It touches everybody’s heart. And for the residents of Orlando, it’s a pride thing. People were so upset when the fountain stopped working, and everybody was looking forward to having it start again. It was a great moment when it did.”
The fountain, which dates back to 1957, was left inoperable in August 2009 after it got struck by lightning. It reopened on July 4, and last month the city introduced the new music and light show, which lasts a little over four minutes long and includes a recorded introduction by Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Although the repair work dates back to that lightning strike in 2009, Perrone said far more ambitious plans for the fountain preceded that moment.
“We actually had done a study on the fountain about a year prior to the fountain being struck by lightning,” he said. “We performed that study and we were already thinking about the upgrades to the fountain before the lightning. Over the past six years prior to that, we had already been installing conduits in the park, and the speakers. There were speakers already there hanging in the trees, but the system was not well thought out and was incurring a lot of damage with the trees growing bigger.”
After the lightning hit the fountain, the city knew it had to make serious repairs, and decided to be even more ambitious with future plans for the park, he said.
“We were able to get some grants and other funding and knew exactly what we needed to do, with the new technology that was available to us, not only for the speakers but the fountain itself, to make it better and more efficient,” he said. “The new equipment is more reliable. Also, the lighting was a big thing. The old lighting was incandescent on the inside and outside of the fountain, and all of that has been replaced with computerized LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. Throughout the year, it’s going to be a lot more efficient.”
On Saturday, in honor of Veteran’s Day weekend’s, the city will do a separate show, a special patriotic one.
“We have two shows that are already programmed,” Perrone said. “One is the show we have at 8 and 9:30 (p.m.). The other is the big patriotic show we had on July 4. It will use patriotic music and it’s a similar show in that it’s about 4 and a half minutes long.”
“When we developed this, it included two programmed shows. That’s why it’s just the two right now. It’s what we budgeted for,” said Cassandra Anne Lafser, public information officer for the Office of the Mayor and the City of Orlando. “We’re still rolling it out to the community. A lot of people still haven’t been down to Lake Eola and know what we did there.”
Whether the music and light show will get expanded in the future will depend on city finances, Perrone said, although he added that his department is open to new ideas, such as a holiday-theme music and light show.
“The basics are there,” he said. “The fundamental basics of the fountain can handle anything. We’re going through a learning curve of our own. The programming of that particular fountain and the music takes a special knowledge that only a few people have, and we’re hoping we can get more things done, like patriotic songs and other holiday special events. At the Citrus Bowl, you’ll have two teams there and maybe we can play the colors of those teams.”
Lake Eola isn’t the only city park undergoing renovations and improvements, Perrone added.
“We have a playground renovation program,” he said. “We try to renovate and improve our playgrounds. We do that every 15 or 20 years.”
David Dunn, the manager of the city’s facilities division, added that “We do a regular maintenance program on all hardscape and playground equipment — a variety of systems at the parks, routinely. We try to maintain the existing equipment. Any time they’re going to do an upgrade, it’s initiated by the parks division, and we have an idea of what’s being done and how we can integrate what we do. Obviously over the years we’ve had challenges having enough dollars to replace something when it breaks.”
Perrone added that the city often gets requests from Orlando residents for things that can be added to the parks – but not all of them fit within current budgetary restraints.
“We’re always getting requests,” he said. “We have to stick with our basic master plan for the parks. Some of the requests can be over the top things that we just can’t let happen. It’s hard to keep the grass growing and keep surfaces shining and new all the time. We’re always getting those kinds of requests. We implement them when we can.”
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