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Columbia County panel OKs scenic mural for new county building

November 4, 2017 GMT

Gretchen Halvorsen showed members of the Columbia County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee a peaceful scene, complete with a river, fall foliage, gentle deer and birds soaring overhead.

Then she invited them to imagine that image covering an entire wall.

The mural proposed for the county’s new Health and Human Services Building, 111 E. Mullett St., isn’t just for decoration, said Halvorsen, the county’s HHS support services administrator.

It’s intended to be interactive for people of all ages – and therapeutic.

“Nature and art are two of the most significant ways of calming people’s emotions, of drawing them in, and drawing them away from what is affecting their health and happiness,” she said.

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Committee members were sold. On Tuesday, they unanimously approved an expenditure of $5,780, from the $60,000 set aside for art at the county’s new HHS Building and Administration Building.

Starting probably in May, the image will be rendered on a second-floor wall of the HHS building, in the waiting area for clients of several HHS services for which mental health and well-being is a key issue.

Artist Dan Gardner will create the mural, with the help of four selected art students, each from a different Columbia County school district.

The full cost, according to Halvorsen, is $9,500, of which $3,720 will come from a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The money was a key concern for the committee.

Committee member Fred Teitgen of the town of Dekorra noted that, while the county’s $45.51 million building project is now about $424,000 over budget, there is still enough money for the mural left in a $60,000 fund set aside for art for the two new buildings, located on opposite sides of the Portage Canal. An additional $10,000 has been set aside for art for the courthouse, currently under renovation for use by the county’s court-related offices.

The courtrooms and court-related offices are temporarily located in the HHS Building while the renovation continues. Completion of the renovation is targeted for the end of May.

Judge W. Andrew Voigt said having the artist and students working on the mural during business hours would be disruptive, but the building is usually empty after 5 p.m., so work could be done after hours.

Cory Wiegel, the county’s building and grounds director, said there might be challenges in ensuring that the artists have access to a sink suitable for cleaning paintbrushes, but that can be worked out.

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Halvorsen said the mural is not just to look at. Plans call for interactive components.

For example, people who have “smart phones” might be able to scan a code that gives them access to information about the flora and fauna indigenous to Columbia County, as well as information about places in the county for hunting, fishing or nature hikes.

And, she said, she’d like to set up a “scavenger hunt” for children, where they can find images of animal tracks in the building and match them to the animals depicted in the mural who make those tracks.

What she had in mind, she added, was a plastic-acrylic display of the animal tracks, which could be located in several areas of the building.

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