Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Infrastructure beautiful

As reported today, last night the Town Council solidified its commitment to go ahead on with the new Town Operations Center as a necessary project, even though it is going to have a sharp impact on this year's tax rate.

[Town Manager Cal] Horton and Assistant Town Manager Bruce Heflin described the key issues Monday, pointing to factors such as rising construction costs and interest rates, and the need to pay several million dollars in costs in the coming year, even if the public-works features were delayed.

"We have examined this very carefully, and I'm convinced that the most prudent course for the council to take is to move ahead with [the center]," Horton said.

The question of whether to delay the project is one that's been raised in our citizen budget review advisory committee, which was formed to try to help us figure out ways to economize in the next year and beyond.

Another question that's come up is about the one percent for art program, particularly as applied to the multi-million-dollar TOC budget. Why spend so much money on a building that isn't even public? asked Aaron Nelson, committee member and executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce--a question he said his members were asking.

Larry Kirkland, the artist selected for the project, gave a presentation to the Council last night outlining what he plans to do. I wish his sketches were available online. For the transportation building he plans an outdoor bench made of white marble with two black granite stools on either end that will look a little like giant bus tires lying flat. Kirkland writes,

I located the carved marble and granite bench between the entrance to the building and the parking lot so as to integrate the art work with the planned sustainability and greenways trails. Transit employees and drivers work long days, with the heaviest workloads during the morning and evening hours. Between shifts, drivers gather and talk, sit and read, or get some exercise. It also seemed fitting that the art work be a place to gather and talk, sit alone and enjoy the quiet of the landscape, or to wait safely for the commute home at the end of the day.

For the public works part of the site, Kirkland plans a semicircular stone wall to be built by a local stone mason, Judson Daniel. Some of the stones will jut out from the wall and on them will be cast bronze objects that represent public works functions. The structure will be both sound barrier (the interstate is nearby) and what Kirkland calls an "outdoor room."

The Administration Building will have a conference and training space that can be used for public meetings. This facility opens out onto a landscaped plaza that looks into the hardwood forest with a variety of old specimen trees. I placed the art work at this far end of the plaza so as to serve as an important connection among the department, the landscape, and the planned greenways and sustainability trails. It will also be visible through the glass entrance of the building.

A number answers to Aaron's question come to mind, the first being the obvious point that it is a public site. I suppose the meaning was that nobody goes to public works or transportation facilities unless you work there or you need a new recycling bucket. But this building will have public meeting space, and, with its location at the far north end of town, it's designed to be the beginning (or end) point of a rich system of greenway trails. And even if all that weren't true, creating an attractive and environmentally responsible workplace for town employees is a worthy goal.

According to a story in Sunday's Times, we're in the vanguard of the "infrastructure beautiful" movement, in which even sewage treatment plants can be works of art.

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