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DTMB kicks off summer by flipping the switch on the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain

On June 1, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB) held an event for state employees to turn on the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain, signaling the unofficial kickoff to summer at the Capitol Complex. DTMB has hosted the annual event four times, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time since 2019. 

Fountain with Water 2022

Photo of the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain during the flip-the-switch event June 1, 2022. 

The event is designed to bring together employees from various state departments during the lunch hour to mingle, learn about DTMB services, enjoy some music, and start the fountain they walk past on a regular basis. 

Each year, one lucky state employee earns the chance to flip the switch and turn on the fountain. Kurt Rommel was selected in a random drawing that included 46 employees from 13 departments for the 2022 honors. Kurt has worked for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs for more than four years. He previously served in the U.S. Navy and is a veteran of the Gulf War. 

Lange Buhs Fountain 2022

Kurt Rommel, left, poses with Acting DTMB Director Michelle Lange, center, and DTMB Communications Director Caleb Buhs, right, after officially flipping the switch turning on the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain. 

Watch this brief video of the fountain festivities

The fountain was erected in 1983 and was officially turned on in a ceremony Sept. 7 of that year. Designed by Bloomfield Hills architect Sigmund Blum, the fountain stands 24-feet tall by 14-feet wide, and the basin is 4-feet deep. The tank holds 10,000 gallons of water, which is collected, filtered, and recycled back through the fountain. Blum named his creation “Ottawa Falls” for the name of the nearby street and building, along with the significance of Michigan’s indigenous Ottawa Indian tribe. The total cost of the original project was $170,000. 

LSJ Fountain Opening 1983

Newspaper clipping from the Aug. 12, 1983, edition of the Lansing State Journal, with a photograph by Norris Ingells of the construction of the Capitol Complex fountain. Caption: FOUNTAIN ARRIVES – Workers prepare to bolt the disc-shaped top of a new Capitol Complex fountain in place after a crane moved it into position. The fountain rises about 10 feet above the plaza.

In 2005, Ottawa Falls went dormant due to state budget challenges. It was revived 11 years later after a handful of DTMB’s building operations employees took it upon themselves to get it back up and running. For about $1,200 in materials and their own labor, the group from DTMB was able to perform the necessary maintenance and repairs and restart the fountain in 2016. While it may seem like a minor feat, the return of the fountain’s flowing water was symbolic for Michigan’s resurgence after the Great Recession. 

In August 2018, the Ottawa Falls fountain was renamed for the late State Superintendent Brian Whiston. Superintendent Whiston worked diligently for the students of Michigan from an office in the John A. Hannah Building overlooking the fountain. The renaming of the fountain to the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain honors his work and memory. 

This past spring, DTMB’s buildings operations staff installed a variable frequency drive to the fountain’s motor to control speed and use less energy. The fountain runs Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., from mid-spring to fall, when the leaves begin to collect in the filter.  

Facilities Staff w Fountain 2022

The DTMB Building Operations team responsible for the maintenance of the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain pose for a photo after the successful start up for the 2022 season. Left to right: Jerry Keeder, Craig Richard, Mike Shippell, Dylan Smith, Pat Mertz, Larry Sanderson, Andy Gewirtz, Josh Thelen, Chad Gale, Brent West, Stephen DeMass, Glen VanElls


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