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New grate blends public art and public works

$33,000 project an experiment

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 06:00 am

IN THE WORKS – The city has begun installation of a new grate and fence at one of the outfall areas along the Sturgeon River. Designed by artist Darrell Colyer, the new gate and fence are an experimental project to see if public art can be incorporated into public works projects.     
IN THE WORKS – The city has begun installation of a new grate and fence at one of the outfall areas along the Sturgeon River. Designed by artist Darrell Colyer, the new gate and fence are an experimental project to see if public art can be incorporated into public works projects.     
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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St. Albert's mayor hopes a new $33,000 fence by a downtown sewer will get people to show the Sturgeon River the respect it deserves.

Crews installed a new fence and grate at Outfall No. 6 by the Perron Street Bridge this week. The fence and grate resemble bulrushes and flowing water, and are part of an experiment that blends public works with public art.

The city installed a grit interceptor at this outfall in 2012 during renovations to Mission Ave., said city environment and sustainability manager Leah Kongsrude, and wanted to draw attention to its effects on water quality. They also needed to replace the outfall's fence and grate.

Instead of an ordinary fence and grate, Kongsrude said she suggested putting in a fancy-looking one, with the hope that the enhanced fence would draw attention to the outfall and (by way of an explanatory plaque) the grit interceptor in it. "We can make it functional and look good at the same time." The concept also fit in with the city's policy of dedicating a part of every public works project budget to public art.

But doing so added a bundle to the project's price tag. Whereas a standard chain-link fence would have cost $5,500, reported city project manager Jon Cleland, this enhanced one cost about $33,000.

But the price difference was due in most part to the materials involved, Cleland said, rather than the design. "It's way stronger than chain-link," he said, and should last 50 years instead of 25. Factor in maintenance costs, and the two fences are roughly the same price.

The fence also draws attention to how the city's stormwater affects the Sturgeon, he continued. "You see water run into a catch-basin and that's the last you think of it," he said, yet everything that washes off our roads ends up in the river. "It does affect the environment." These reeds should help residents make this connection more than a simple chain-link fence would.

Mayor Nolan Crouse defended the cost, saying that it's worth it when you consider the message it sends to people about the importance of the Sturgeon River.

"There's one thing you don't put a price on, which is expressing to the world around us that the river matters," he said. "Anything we can do about showing our respect for the river, we should be doing."

Durable, functional art

The city's public art policy dedicates about one per cent of all public works project budgets to public art, which usually goes into a fund to create a statue or mural elsewhere.

This project was a test to see if the city should incorporate public art into public works projects, said Kelly Jerrott, director of cultural services. "It lets us celebrate a different aspect of what makes St. Albert a great place to live."

Project artist and Parkland County resident Darrell Colyer said he based the design of the fence on the sight of bulrushes along the Sturgeon River in the winter.

The new fence resembles a stand of bulrushes and has a silhouette of a red-winged blackbird cut into it. (Red-winged blackbirds commonly hang around bulrushes.) It's painted brown-black so it blends in, Colyer said, and is solid steel.

"It's really heavy duty," he said. "I don't think a truck going over the thing could damage it!"

The paint was similar to the stuff used on navy ships, Kongsrude said, and should be very durable. "We don't want to be replacing fences every 10 years."

The grate itself was made of stainless steel painted steel blue, Colyer said, and resembles flowing water – an attempt to add movement to an otherwise stationary object.

Outfall No. 7 by the Children's Bridge was slated for replacement next year, Kongsrude said, and she hoped that it would also have art integrated into it.


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