Longwood previews new tech, new features from fountain renovation

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Visitors, starting in late May, to see familiar but improved complex 

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Workmen at Longwood Gardens put the finishing touches on some of the thousands of limestone elements that have been rehabbed or replaced as part of the fountain renovation project.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Imagine combining the elegance of the past with state of the art technology.

That’s exactly what Longwood Gardens is aiming to do with its much-loved fountain/light display — due to reopen for the first time in more than two years in late May, after a $90 million revitalization project. The media was invited to a sneak preview of the renovation project Wednesday, now in its final stages — showing a strong blend of Pierre S. du Pont’s original vision with breathtaking new technologies and facilities.

The grand reopening of the gardens and fountain is planned for May 27.

Despite new fountain technology — the “basket-weave” style fountain is just one of the new aquatic features on display — new LED lighting and a host of features including an all-new “grotto,” long-time Longwood lovers might just find everything as very familiar, but just a lot better — as long-closed areas return to service and access is vastly improved.

Longwood Gardens President/CEO Paul Redmond discusses the new Grotto — still getting its final touches — this week.

That’s no accident, according to Longwood President and CEO Paul Redman, who said his organization was very focused on maintaining the beloved fountain attractions in line with the original vision of Pierre du Pont — who created the European-inspired garden in 1931 — while bringing the level of innovation that du Pont did almost a century ago.

So while embracing an incredible amount of new tech — from computer control systems for the all-new lighting, to what may become the most-talked about new feature, the ability to combine water, light and fire in one amazing fountain display — great care was also taken to preserve the past. More than four thousand limestone blocks were carefully restored to their original glory (a handful of detail pieces needed to be rebuilt to match — as time and weather took their toll on the original stones). A few early details — such as an original iron fountain that served as a prototype for the later fountains back in 1931 — were unearthed and will enjoy a new life as a display items.

The new fountain system — with more than 60 pumps — now numbers more than 1,700 — more than four times the number of fountains from the original 1931 installation. The tallest fountain now reaches 170 feet into the air — 40 feet higher than before. Some highlight of new fountain tech: basketweave fountains (a number of which were operating and display this week), which use micro-fountains to create a weave pattern in the water. Also, there are new variations on dancing fountains — and what is likely to be a show stopper, fountain that also shoots a 10-foot fountain of flame at it’s top (propane is injected through the water to create this new effect, said to be the only of its kind currently in North America).

The new lighting system — made up entirely of LED lights — uses a staggering 1,389 lights able to create millions of color shades, all while using less energy than the previous traditional light system.

New, too, will be The Grotto an underground area with fountains that will go both up and down, a peaceful oasis, crafted by hand from thousands of stones. Additionally, there will be areas dedicated to the history of Longwood — much of the original pump house has been converted into museum space. There will also be a new Pumphouse Plaza space for visitors to enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee. Roughly a mile of new pathways and walkways have been added, inlcuding stairs on the left and right side of the garden.

More than a quarter mil of new, underground tunnels will help keep Longwood’s new fountain system in good repair and allow for easy updates.

Equally new — but likely totally invisible to visitors — roughly a quarter mile of underground tunnel, allowing easy access to all of the pump and fountain gear. Repairs and upgrades now can be made without tearing up the surface (an all too common need in recent years).

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