PORTSMOUTH — The City Council on Monday will be asked to exempt the new Peirce Island wastewater treatment plant from an ordinance requiring $150,000 be spent for public art there.
Making the request are City Engineer Terry Desmarais and Deputy Director of Public Works Brian Goetz, by letter with Deputy City Attorney Suzanne Woodland.
The “Percent for Art” ordinance was passed in 2006 and requires the City Council to spend 1% of any municipal project costing more than $2 million on an art element, with a $150,000 cap.
Under the requirements of the ordinance, the 2018 City Council approved $88,900 for a sculpture named “Hammer Heads” by Terrence Parker and $40,000 for an “etched glass mural” by Seth Palmiter, both now at the Foundry Place parking garage.
In a Sept. 28 memo to the current council, the DPW officials ask for an exemption from the art requirement, “given the nature of the use of the facility and perimeter fencing.”
“If exempted, the city will utilize the $150,000 to apply to other critical parts of project completion,” the council was advised.
The public works managers are asking the council to invoke an ordinance provision exempting public buildings, specifically citing a water or sewer plant, “due to the building’s inaccessibility to the public, location, use or other factors.”
The public works officials report the 2016 City Council authorized an initial $75 million for the treatment plant, but “was not asked to make a decision at the time about whether to exempt the project from the one percent for art requirement.”
The 2017 council amended the art ordinance to state any exemption “shall be made no later than the final vote of the council authorizing the funding for the project.” However, the city legal department now advises, public art can now be exempted from the treatment plant project, “given that the project was authorized to proceed and funded in 2016 before the amendment was adopted.”
“The facility is secured by perimeter fencing and a guard gate,” the public works managers wrote. “It is for the most part inaccessible to the public. The physical barrier between the public space and the facility grounds would obstruct the view of an art installation.”
While they say the $150,000 would be better spent on the plant than art few would see, the DPW officials report there will be an interpretive sign outside the fence at the upgraded plant, “outlining the history of Peirce Island and its role in supporting the health and welfare of the city through public sewers and wastewater treatment.”
“Such signage was a condition of the memorandum of agreement between the city, EPA and the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources,” the City Council is advised. “The proposed signage is being reviewed by the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources.”