Giant Microbes

Sculptures at the Coeur d’Alene Wastewater Treatment Plant pay proper tribute to the tiny heroes of the activated sludge process.
Giant Microbes

It isn't often that community residents can visit their local wastewater
treatment plant to view creative public art, but in the City of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, it's part of the experience.

Six steel statues reaching nearly 8 feet tall display the shape and form of the protozoa and metazoa that work behind the scenes in the plant. They immortalize the tiny agents that do the transforming work as wastewater makes its way through this 6 mgd (design) advanced treatment facility, based on the activated sludge process.

Named "Frolicking Creatures" by their creator, Coeur d'Alene artist Allen Dodge, the 3/8-inch-thick flame-cut statues of ciliates, filamentous and rotifers have a naturally rusting finish. They are post-mounted on concrete bases and stand near the plant's main entrance. A freestanding ceramic plaque mounted near each piece describes the characteristics of the microorganism.

Like a campus

Another local artist, Dale Young, created a 12-foot-tall sculpture, "Totem to the Water of life." Carved from basalt, the totem presents images that depict land, water and sky. It stands near the main entrance to the recently completed administration/laboratory building.

"The public art complements our efforts toward developing an architectural style," says wastewater superintendent Sid Fredrickson. He says recent plant upgrades have included projects to improve the plant's facade and give it a campus-like appearance.

In part that's because a consortium of colleges and universities plans to build a corridor of higher education facilities next to the plant. It's also because a popular paved hiking and bicycling trail passes in front of the plant. "Certainly this art will have an impact on the general public," Fredrickson says.

Artist inspired

Fredrickson served on the selection committee that reviewed the entries from more than 20 artists who answered the city Arts Commission's call for hands-on and interpretive art pieces. The winning artist completely changed his offering after he had a tour of the secondary treatment facility, which included a new digester. "He was completely enraptured with the microorganisms and their function in the wastewater treatment process," says Fredrickson.

The $50,000 needed for the public art project came through funding from a city ordinance that designates 1.33 percent of the total cost of all aboveground projects for the Arts Commission. Since 1982, the plant has invested more than $64 million in upgrades.

Fredrickson says architectural aesthetics will continue to be an important part of all future plant upgrades: "We realize that in such a sensitive setting we can no longer appear as an industrial tank farm to our neighbors."



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