COLUMBIA — When the University of South Carolina secured its first trip to the men’s basketball NCAA Final Four in March 2017, scores of students poured out of the bars in Columbia's Five Points and stormed the public fountain in the popular shopping and dining district.
Photos and video of the celebration showed students piling into the fountain, ripping off their shirts and jumping around in the shallow pool until there was nowhere left to move. The partying won praise from USC President Harris Pastides and local law enforcement for being peaceful.
But quietly it came with a catch for Five Points merchants: roughly $60,000 in estimated damage to their fountain, a landmark in one of the capital city's destination hot spots.
More than a year later, the fountain still hasn’t been fixed.
The first repair estimate was a bit a steep, Five Points Association leaders said.
The merchants group worked to find a less expensive $12,000 plan to replace an old bronze sprayer with a new one built from steel with the hope it would withstand any future impromptu stomping and jumping.
The fountain has been working partially but is missing the sprayer that produces a signature illuminated water dome. The fountain water is dyed green for Five Points' annual St. Pat's festival, one of the city's biggest events.
Columbia taxpayers must reimburse the association for those costs, according to the fountain’s maintenance contract. The repairs should be done before students return to campus this fall.
“We are very anxious to get the fountain back and running in its full glory,” said Amy Beth Franks, Five Points Association executive director.
Rowdy college fans celebrating significant sports moments in other parts of South Carolina have not caused any major mishaps.
Hundreds of students flooded the streets of downtown Clemson when the Tigers won the national football championship in January 2017. Some students were seen scaling street light poles, but no major damage was reported, said Rick Cotton, administrator for the city of Clemson.
To be sure, Columbia leaders aren’t discouraging Gamecock fans from celebrating the next major sports victory.
“I’m all for USC winning,” said Richard Burts, a Five Points Association board member. “It’s unfortunate we had parts damaged, but it was a small price to pay.”
But even with massive crowds for impromptu celebrations, costly damage to public property is somewhat unusual.
And unless someone is arrested for vandalism, it’s unlikely that students or universities would be on the hook for damages that students cause. The university was unaware of the damage to the Five Points fountain, USC spokeswoman Dana Woodward said.
Students also poured into the fountain in front of the Thomas Cooper Library on campus after the Gamecocks reached the Final Four but did no damage, Woodward said.
The city of Clemson has no working agreement with Clemson University for how to handle such claims, Cotton said.
“Let's hope that this pattern of good behavior continues into the future,” Cotton said.