Best Face Forward

Murals painted on structures help a Georgia treatment plant add to an inviting picture for residents and arriving tourists.
Best Face Forward
Muralist Bob Henry painted this scene on a concrete digester tank for the Academy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

When the Academy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brunswick, Ga., was built in the mid-1960s, it was located far from town and had a 100-foot buffer of tall pines between it and the nearest road — which was dirt.

Since then, population growth and infrastructure have transformed the 13.5 mgd design, 5.5 mgd average flow secondary treatment plant into a prominent structure next to a four-lane highway that serves as a gateway corridor into this popular tourist community.

"Along with population growth came the geographic expansion of the town," says Keith Morgan, director of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water & Sewer Commission. "And that growth has led us to enlarge and upgrade the plant several times to where it now occupies an entire city block of frontage on U.S. Highway 341."

Since then, it has become the community's aim to make its corridors more appealing to the tourists, who make up the largest single industry in Glynn County, in southeast Georgia. To be consistent with that civic goal, the plant team decided to enhance the facility's image by creating murals on the tanks and buildings that front the highway and upgrading the landscape.

Pitching right in

The city solicited designs from local art colleges and other sources, but received no bids or proposals. The contract was awarded to Bob Henry of B an' K Graphics of Puyallup, Wash., who specializes in larger-than-life paintings. Henry's seacoast-themed design, covering 12,000 square feet on six concrete digester tanks, shows local landmarks, such as a crowded St. Simons Island Pier and the nearby lighthouse, the Sidney Lanier Bridge, and samplings of the local flavor with a life-size right whale, pelicans and dolphins, and shrimp boats.

To help keep the costs within the $40,000 budget, plant operations and maintenance staff helped with prep work. "The designer wanted the surfaces to be as pristine as possible, so between three and six employees worked at different times to just stay ahead of the artist during the seven-week project," says Morgan. "Prep work was primarily high-pressure power washing, spot chemical application, and minor structural concrete repair."

Plant superintendent Mark Ryals led the prep work team in cleaning the tanks and in painting the light blue sky and deep blue sea portions of the mural before Henry arrived. "The success of any paint job is doing a good job on the prep work," says Ryals, who had previous experience painting airplanes.

Growing things

To complement the mural, the team made major changes to the landscape. They planted nearly 40 maple and palmetto trees 8 to 15 feet tall, along with several birch, peach, lemon, chasteberry and crepe myrtle trees. Also planted were more than 600 shrubs, 200 azaleas, and nearly 4,000 one-gallon containers of sea oats and native grasses, including Eulalia (maiden grass) that grows to almost 6 feet tall. All are planted in strategic positions so that they either accentuate the mural or obscure plant structures.

The landscape design was the creation of Kevin Whitaker, an intern majoring in landscape design at the University of Georgia. "Landscaping the treatment facility has always been a goal, and incorporating it with the mural seemed a natural fit," says Morgan.

After several attempts to obtain grants for the project, the commission decided to cover the cost through its own budget and with the help of plant staff. Morgan is proud of the enhanced appearance of the plant and its contribution to the civic goal.

Morgan observes, "The project provided the utility an opportunity to do something as a community partner and demonstrate a willingness to support the initiative to improve the aesthetics of the gateways to the community."


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