Bids are poised to go out and almost all the funds are in hand to complete restoration of the South Garden and Cliffside Paths of the Fairmount Water Works, one of Philadelphia's longest-running, most confounding rehab projects ever.
But with a Women for the Water Works benefit reception set for Sunday at 5 p.m., fund-raising will have netted about $4.7 million over the last two years, according to Katrina L. Wilhelm, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
That's just a hair shy of the project's $5 million goal and is more than enough, she said, to move into the final stage of construction: restoring the north and south Cliffside Paths and the large Mercury Pavilion at the top of the bluff behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Work will also begin on re-creation of the so-called Rustic Pavilion, which once jutted from the cliffs over the Schuylkill until vanishing more than half a century ago.
The conservancy, a private nonprofit group that serves as a fund-raising vehicle for Fairmount Park, has organized the capital campaign by signing up more than 100 women to tackle the money-raising task in memory of Ernesta Ballard, who envisioned a completely restored Water Works well over 30 years ago.
Ballard, known for her tireless civic efforts, died in 2005 after raising about $20 million to return the neoclassical complex to its early 19th-century splendor. It was a frustrating task dogged by bureaucratic glitches, fires, recession and, at times, governmental indifference. Now only the final touches are needed to return the South Garden - known nationally and even internationally in the 19th century for its drama and serenity - to its former state.
"This will make it truly a destination to be proud of," Wilhelm said, "and one that people will point to and say, 'We need to make sure we go to the Water Works.' "
Wilhelm, 25, took over the helm of the conservancy in May, when the previous director, Susan Rademacher, departed after a brief tenure. At that point, Wilhelm and conservancy officials determined to focus on raising funds, postponing final construction for eight months or so.
Wilhelm and the Women for the Water Works, which is a volunteer arm of the conservancy, have raised about $1 million since last spring.
"Kate stepped in and did a hell of a job," said John K. Binswanger, a park commissioner and president of the conservancy. "She's young, aggressive. We're very fortunate."
Bids for the final construction stage will go out in about a week, officials said. Construction should start, depending on the weather, by late winter and will last eight to 10 months.
In a related matter, the Fairmount Park Commission met yesterday and reelected Robert N.C. Nix 3d as its president.