A proposed mural for Columbia County’s new Health and Human Services Buildings seems to be hovering in a limbo between “when” and “whether.”
But a member of the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee said there’s still time to work through the varied issues and make the soothing artwork a reality.
“It seems to me,” said Supervisor Fred Teitgen of the town of Dekorra, “we have to work through the process and see where it goes.”
Plans call for a second-floor wall in the HHS Building, 111 E. Mullett St., Portage, to be covered with a scene reminiscent of this part of Wisconsin in the autumn — a flowing river with vivid foliage on its banks, deer grazing nearby and birds overhead. The mural is intended to be therapeutic as well as decorative, and it’s slated to include interactive elements for people of all ages.
Artist Dan Gardner has been selected to paint the mural, with help from three or four selected Columbia County high school students who have shown a talent and passion for art.
But the question of when the work will be done hinges on the building’s current principal users — the Columbia County court-related offices, who have taken up temporary residence in the HHS Building while the courthouse, 400 DeWitt St., undergoes renovation to be used for court-related purposes only.
Committee Chairman Kirk Konkel of Portage said he expects the occupancy permit for the courthouse to come through on or about May 19 (a Saturday), with the possibility of the courts moving in just before or just after Memorial Day, which would be May 28.
But the original plan was to have the students painting in the evening, before schools dismiss for the summer. Some of the students selected for the painting are seniors, who might be unavailable after they graduate.
Judge W. Andrew Voigt said he foresees major security and congestion problems if the work should start before the courts have moved back to the courthouse.
The mural painting would likely require moving tables that the public uses for court-related paperwork, blocking a walkway.
Also, lack of clarity as to who would supervise the students, and how, causes concerns related to building security, Voigt said.
“We are kind of at a boiling point right now,” he said. “One more disruption of our ability to provide our services could possibly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Voigt said he doesn’t oppose the mural, but he’d feel better if it were created in June, after the court offices have vacated the HHS Building.
That could be possible, said HHS Director Dawn Woodard, as long as the painting doesn’t interfere with the minor remodeling that will be needed to accommodate the HHS workers who are expected to move into the building in early July.
However, there also are unresolved questions concerning a Wisconsin Arts Board grant that is expected to pay $3,720 of the project’s $10,000 cost, with the county picking up the remainder.
Earlier this month, the County Board’s Executive Committee raised questions about “boilerplate” language in the contract for the grant, mainly related to the size and placement of signage acknowledging the Arts Board’s participation.
The Executive Committee had directed County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage to seek clarification on the contract’s requirements. The Executive Committee was planning to meet briefly before the County Board’s Dec. 20 meeting to decide on a recommendation for the full County Board, but Gove said the County Board’s decision was postponed until January because the Finance Committee must also sign off on the resolution accepting the grant, because expenditure of county money is involved.
Konkel said the difficulties with scheduling the work and finalizing the grant might make it less likely that the mural will get painted at all.
“I’m not sure if we’re going from 90 percent sure to 50 percent sure right now,” he said.
If the matter can come to the County Board at its Jan. 17 meeting, Teitgen said, that should be ample time to finalize arrangements for the mural to be painted.