Signs in front of Millennium Fountain in downtown Rockford warn people not to get in the fountain’s water. However, upgrades planned for the site this summer are designed to allow people to cool off. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Millennium Fountain in the city’s downtown is a popular spot to beat the heat with a splash of cool water during hot summer months.

There’s just one problem: The fountain was never intended for people to get wet.

The roughly 23-year-old decorative streetscape wasn’t designed with the type of water treatment system made for people to play in or otherwise use. People do it anyway, ignoring signs that warn against wading or bathing in the water.

“It was not designed to be a water feature, a splash feature. It was purely aesthetic,” said Kyle Saunders, the city’s director of public works. “It didn’t have the proper treatment in place. It wasn’t permitted through (Illinois Department of Public Health). It was just an aesthetic.”

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Now, the city is working on plans to change that.

A renovation project will modernize the fountain with new water pipes and utilities, new splash pad equipment, landscaping and sod restoration and other improvements. The fixes will make the fountain, which is near the Rock River along Water Street by the Rockford City Market pavilion, safe to play in, Saunders said.

“With this modernization it will become a water feature. It will use treated water that will be safe to play in,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a great feature for enhancing City Market, enhancing riverfront activities, it’s really going to do a lot toward developing that sense of place downtown.”

The total project is expected to cost about $545,000, about $200,000 of which comes from state grants. On Monday, the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee approved a $107,306 contract with Vortex Aquatic Structures of Dover, Delaware, for splash pad equipment that is included in the total cost. The matter still needs approval from the majority of City Council members.

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Health officials say water features that recirculate water without disinfecting it, as Millennium Fountain exists now, can spread germs and cause illness. That’s why the city has warned against playing in the fountain.

Saunders said the look of the fountain will be similar, and aspects like the memorial pavers will remain in place. However, the fountain’s infrastructure is in need of replacement.

“We’re starting to see aging and deterioration of the pumping equipment, sidewalk, all the hardscape, landscape, it just really needs a refresh,” Saunders said. “It’s going to stay very similar to what it was originally designed to be, but we’re just bringing everything up to modern standards as it relates to water efficiency, accessibility … to give it a refresh 23 years later.”

The work will take place this summer with an anticipated completion in August.

“It’s going to have fountain type splash features, but also misting features where just sitting adjacent to it you can feel that water mist and enjoy it on a hot day,” Saunders said. “We’re really pleased to see it step into its next phase of Millenium Fountain.”

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas

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