Poetry in Paint

Murals on a Savannah treatment plant’s clarifiers are a source of pride for the operating team and a positive visual statement to the community
Poetry in Paint
The earth goddess Gaia wraps her arms around a scene that includes a variety of sea creatures. Students at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) created the design and prepared the mural using a technique similar to a paint-by-numbers process.

Curb appeal is a big deal for operators at the President Street Wastewater Reclamation Facility in downtown Savannah, Ga. It shows in a multi-colored mural that covers 5,700 square feet of three secondary treatment tanks fronting the street that bears the plant’s name.

Measuring 10 feet tall and covering the street-facing concrete surfaces of the 120-foot-diameter clarifiers, a colorful mural depicts the earth goddess Gaia wrapping her arms around a scene that includes a variety of sea creatures, as well as people boating and swimming in the ocean.

 

Inspired by travel

Inspiration for the project grew from plant employees’ desire to make the plant more visually compatible with the fast-growing city. Lots of ideas were considered. Then Lester Hendrix, water reclamation treatment administrator took a trip out of town and saw a news photo of a mural that had been painted on a fuel tank. “I showed it to my boss, water reclamation director Charlie Birkenkamper, and a community-wide effort took off from there,” he says.

Plant leaders consulted with the water reclamation staff for ideas about the subject of the mural. The consensus was that it should be something related to water. Students at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) created the design and prepared the mural using a technique similar to a paint-by-numbers process.

 

Community effort

Hendrix chuckles when he says, “The design outline work was done after midnight under bright lights, and the police showed up and corralled the students in the control room, because someone reported them for painting graffiti on the tanks.”

Once the outline was in place, more than 300 city employees volunteered to paint the mural with paint supplied by the Water Reclamation Department. “A lot of plant operators and mechanics with their families took part in the painting project,” Hendrix says. Most of the work was done on Saturdays, and it took about a month to complete.

The facility’s landscaping and aesthetics have become more important over the years, says Hendrix. Before a major plant expansion in 1994, the 27 mgd (design) activated sludge plant was on the fringe of the city. Since then, population growth has transformed the plant into a prominent fixture on President Street.

 

Complementary plantings

The maintenance staff planted 11 palm trees left over from a convention center project. Three additional palms were sourced from a sister-plant expansion project, and nine pear trees, four weeping willows and some cedar trees were purchased. Facility staff members planted them with complementary flowers and bushes. They also installed an automated sprinkler that uses reclaimed water for grounds irrigation.

The plant receives many compliments on its landscaping and overall appearance. “In fact, on several occasions, tourists have stopped at the facility, thinking it was a public aquarium,” Hendrix says. He is equally proud of the artwork on the inside of the plant. Plant operations and maintenance staff painted images of bacteria and microbes, math formulas, operating permit parameters, and many other wastewater-related items in hallways throughout the plant.

Hendrix says, “Today, the mural has become a staple landmark in the City of Savannah.”



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