Colorful Circular Clarifiers Carry a Vital Message to a Community

Murals on the primary clarifiers at an Ohio clean-water plant help passersby appreciate the role of treatment in habitats and ecosystems.

Colorful Circular Clarifiers Carry a Vital Message to a Community

The completed mural by artist Jolena Hansbarger on the side of one of the clarifiers.

Two circular primary clarifiers at the Athens (Ohio) Wastewater Treatment Plant get a lot more attention since a mural was painted on each of them.

“They face a popular bike path that gets traffic all day long,” says Lisa Agriesti, plant manager. “It’s just good for the trail users to see something bright and vibrant rather than just machinery and concrete.”

Painted by local artist Jolena Hansbarger, the two identical 5-by-24-foot murals show schools of fish swimming under a sunlit skyline and flocks of birds winging through a moonlit night. Each has an urban background, symbolizing the artist’s vision of wildlife harmonizing with an ever-growing Ohio city.

Sketches first

“I wanted to beautify the space and help people think about the impact population growth has on wildlife habitat and our ecosystem,” Hansbarger says. “And I wanted people to recognize the importance of our wastewater treatment plant’s role in that relationship.”

Hansbarger, a graphic designer, used sketches to frame her vision, then uploaded the creation to Adobe Illustrator to finalize the layout, colors and shapes of objects to be painted. She and a high school student serving as apprentice outlined the design on the clarifiers, using a grid to pinpoint location and proportion.

Putting in a series of 10-hour days, the artists rolled and brushed more than 5 gallons of Valspar SeasonPLUS flat exterior latex paint to complete the murals in nearly 30 days. A UV-protectant coat was applied to both murals. “The weather really cooperated,” Hansbarger says.

Plant operators prepared the surface for the murals using several coats of Sherwin-Williams PrepRite ProBlock flat latex.  

The 20-mile, 6-foot-wide, asphalt-surfaced Hockhocking Adena Bikeway passes on two sides of the activated sludge plant (4.8 mgd design). “The murals are bright and vibrant and add a nice pop of color and interest to our plant,” Agriesti says.

Better biking

The Athens Municipal Arts Commission, appointed by the City Council, issued a regional call for artists to submit proposals for the murals. Commission chair Carol Patterson says six artists made inquiry; four submitted their ideas with the requisite proposal data. A five-member ad hoc committee selected Hansbarger for the $3,000 project. Funding came through a city ordinance that allocates 1% of capital projects’ total cost to the arts.

“Our bike path is a crown jewel of the city, and the murals are a charming enhancement to the whole bike path experience,” Patterson says. Agriesti say the murals complement a 10-by-17-foot mural painted in 2016 on the side of a highly visible lift station.

“I really do enjoy the brightness that each piece adds,” Agriesti says. “In our world of pumps, piping and biosolids, getting a glimpse of something colorful can instantly change your mood for the better.”


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