Bellagio fountains help whet appetite for learning during science festival


Steve Marcus

The Kezar family watches a fountain show after a behind the scenes tour of the Bellagio fountains Sunday, April 29, 2012. The tour was part of the Las Vegas Science Festival 2012, which hosts a variety of science-oriented events through Friday, May 4. Most programs are free.

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 (2:01 a.m.)

Ever wonder how deep the water is outside the Bellagio? Or how the fountains work?

The artificial lake has an average depth of 8 feet. Near Las Vegas Boulevard, the water is about 4 feet deep and increases to 13 feet by the jets that create the fountain display.

Thomas Pinney, assistant manager of the Bellagio fountains, shared those secrets with a tour group Sunday as part of the Las Vegas Science Festival, a weeklong event with more than 50 free programs exposing science, technology, engineering and math in Southern Nevada.

Parents, teachers and children got a behind-the-scenes look at how a staff of 30 — all certified divers — operates and maintains the fountains, which draw millions of spectators each year.

“This is a practical way to see science,” said Heather Honig, a third-grade teacher at Hancock Elementary School. “It’s not abstract. The kids always see it, even if they’re not on the Strip.”

The festival runs through Saturday, culminating in a Science Expo at Cashman Center featuring more than 80 demonstrations booths and science-themed entertainment.

The Bellagio was one of 25 venues on Sunday where science enthusiasts got an insider’s look through tours and programs.

“The music, the lights and the water — it’s amazing,” said Bracie Polk, a fifth-grader at Roger Bryant Elementary School. “I just really wanted to know how they did all that.”

As Pinney led the group through the lake-support area beneath the Bellagio’s shops and restaurants, he rattled off a series of numbers: The lake is 1,200 feet long and 600 feet wide from the boulevard to the casino. The 8.5-acre formation holds 22 million gallons.

And to keep that water clean and safe, the lake requires 400 to 500 pounds of chlorine a day — up to 800 pounds a day in the summer.

“We treat it just like a swimming pool,” Pinney explained. “We want the water that shoots up to be safe for our (visitors).”

Caretakers use a giant pool vacuum, which Pinney described as similar to a Zamboni for an ice rink, to fetch debris from the water.

“It’s already cooler than I was thinking,” said Dan Kezar as he eyed machinery near the access door to the lake.

Kezar and his wife, Tara, brought their 13-year-old triplets to the tour for a field trip.

“It ties in to school,” he said. “It puts more of a face on it than a textbook.”

Some of Pinney’s descriptions should have been familiar to students. For instance, he said the Oarsmen — the mechanisms that create the dancing water — operate on an X- and Y-axis to form movements.

Eleven air compressors help propel the water during the show. Water shooters can thrust water from 120 feet to more than 400 feet in the air, depending on their size. The Oarsmen propel water 80 feet into the air.

In all, there are 1,200 water shooters and 208 Oarsmen working together to create the water display, Pinney said. Computers send signals to adjust air pressure.

“There are so many pieces and they all have to work in unison — and they do,” he said. “That’s what I find fascinating.”

Each show uses about 250,000 gallons of water, but the Bellagio has its own water tanks, so it’s not cutting into the county’s supply, Pinney said.

The tour concluded with a viewing of the fountain display choreographed to “In The Mood” by Glenn Miller, a more recent addition to the Bellagio’s list of water shows.

“I love it,” Pinney said. “It doesn’t get old; it gets better.”

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