Art and Landscaping Combine to Decorate a New Water Treatment Plant

Art competitions and landscapes with native prairie plantings help spruce up a brand-new water treatment facility in Ames, Iowa.
Art and Landscaping Combine to Decorate a New Water Treatment Plant
“Waterfall,” a mixed media piece by artist Megan Endriss purchased by the water utility for display in the new administration building.

An August 2017 open house and ribbon-cutting at the 15 mgd Ames (Iowa) Water Treatment Plant welcomed the public and launched a program to include works of art as a part of the plant’s decor and culture.

The Water and Pollution Control Department, in partnership with the city and the Ames Public Art Commission, sponsored a contest to solicit artwork to be judged for entry into an exhibit at the ceremony. Artists submitted photos and descriptions of up to three items, each related to the theme of water and no bigger than 48 inches in any dimension.

“We were really pleased with the good mix of media and quality of the artwork that came in,” says John Dunn, P.E., department director. “As it got closer to the deadline, it just seemed like the quality of the art kept going up, day after day.”

From 92 entries, 17 were selected for exhibition and final judging at the open house. Chosen as Best in Show by vote of utility employees was artist Gary Hoard’s photograph on metal, “Leaf in Water,” which earned him the $400 prize. A canvas print, “God Watching Over Ada Hayden,” by Maggie Hamilton won a $100 prize as the People’s Choice, selected by attendees.

In addition to those items, the Ames Water Treatment Plant purchased a resin and mixed-media piece, “Waterfall,” by Megan Endriss as well as Kristen Brown’s oil and acrylic, “Undertow.”
“All four pieces start a collection that will be added to each year,” Dunn says. “Our goal is to build a captivating library of water-themed public art owned by the citizens of Ames.” The art will hang in the long white walls of the administration building. Future works will be purchased annually to add to the collection for public viewing.

The public response to the open house and ribbon cutting ceremony was overwhelming, Dunn says. Previous open houses at the old plant usually had about 450 attendees; about 750 were expected at the new plant. “We actually had more than 1,100 signatures in our guest book, and not everyone signed the book,” Dunn says. “I would guess at least 1,500 people toured the plant and voted on the artwork.”

The new water plant occupies the former site of a federal research center that relocated decades ago. The highly desired property fronts a primary roadway into the city but had been ignored by developers who became discouraged by the bureaucratic challenges of acquiring the property. The city’s own efforts to acquire the land spanned more than two years.

Beyond normal landscaping of trees, hedges, flowers and lawn grass, native prairie grasses will be planted over most of the 41-acre site. Students from the Iowa State University landscape architecture classes help design demonstration plots, each created around a U-shaped walking path on a 7-acre portion of the site that separates the plant from its nearest commercial neighbor.

“People can walk the path to see examples of water-efficient, manicured lawns for the urban look; or if they want a more natural landscape look, they can see what that looks like, too,” Dunn says. Next to the parking lots, bioretention cells and treatment ponds for runoff will be created.  

The old water plant was built in 1927, but after many expansions and updates, a consultant’s study determined that it could not accommodate future growth. It will be demolished, and its 9.5 acres will be converted to green space.

Early in the design phase of the new plant, Dunn and water utility staff met with Public Art Commission members to define the art contest. “It was clear that the hallways of a larger new facility were going to seem empty if we didn’t have artwork hanging on them,” Dunn says.

In the future, during years without open houses, the annual art exhibits will be held at locations such as the botanical gardens. “We are really proud of the whole plant, but the art competition exceeded everything we expected,” Dunn says. “Some local artists who just happened to be in town and attended the open house said, ‘I’m going to submit something next year.’ So, we’re looking forward to that.”


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