Building mainly residential projects, I jumped at the opportunity to break into the commercial water feature space. In 2020, a construction company contacted us about installing a modern water fountain in a planned community, called The Hub, in an under-developed area of Fort Smith, AR. The architecture plans were elaborate and also included an outdoor shared patio between a restaurant and other businesses. The name, “The Hub,” describes what the owners wanted to accomplish with this modern water fountain: A place where people could gather and enjoy a small urban oasis in rural Arkansas.
In the original architectural plans, this water feature originally called for a set of weirs using a concrete basin filled with water, no filtration system and a particular slate stone from Australia. While I’m sure this feature would have been beautiful, I knew that the mechanics behind this water feature would be a headache to maintain. Knowing that “callbacks” usually cost a company time and money, I approached the construction manager and explained that this design would lead to future problems. I told them I would love to design something that would avoid these maintenance problems but still have the wow factor they wanted.
With their approval, I went to the drawing board and came up with some design ideas. The water feature had to fit specific criteria with its 360-deg. views but a small footprint and need to blend in the aesthetics of the surrounding area. I ended up creating three different designs with separate quotes. Each design included the Aquascape stacked slate walls to mimic the original slate work, save time and construction costs, and have the lasting quality that a commercial space needs.
In the end, the owners chose the simplistic yet bold statement of three, tall stacked slate walls with water flowing from all sides. This design had a total savings of $48,000 compared to the original design and the same impactful statement.
Residential Vs. Commercial
Being the first commercial build for River Rock Water Gardens, we learned a lot along the way about the differences between working on a residential project and a commercial project. While communication is mainly between the contractor and homeowners on residential projects, many more people are involved in a commercial project. Luckily for us, this construction company had a great system in place and was just as accommodating to our workflow as to their own.
Nevertheless, we still had to work around timelines. The feature’s construction took place simultaneously with our construction, so we had to make sure there was enough space for everyone to work in order to keep both projects running smoothly. No one wanted to puncture the liner with nails and debris!
Another difference between residential and commercial projects is the final walkthrough. Usually with residential projects, we have a checklist that we go over with homeowners to show them warranty information, manuals, etc. With the Revel Patio project, we did the walkthrough with the leading construction manager; however, so many other people would be maintaining the fountain that we received quite a few callbacks with technical issues.
How to solve this issue? An easy solution would be to provide a troubleshooting list or to meet with as many people as possible related to the project during the walkthrough. At one point, the landscaper turned off the autofill valve. A resident in the apartments above flipped the photocell over, causing everyone to assume a problem with the lights. Another time, the lights weren’t working because of dead batteries in the remote. These issues were small but time-consuming and very avoidable.
Another unique challenge with this project was construction on the restaurant was still in progress, so our contract had a “no media clause” that stated we couldn’t promote or show photos on social media until after everything was open. Combined with COVID shutdowns extending construction, seven months later, we are just now getting to show off our work!
Overall, it was a reasonably seamless project that ran smoothly. I know we are fortunate since this is not always the case when working on commercial projects. This fountain turned out beautiful, providing the area with the stunning and peaceful community space the owners were wanted while keeping future maintenance to a minimum. In the future, I hope others enjoy it as much as I enjoyed building it.