Artwork could chug into railroad park

Chad Frey
A proposed mural in the rail road park would be placed north of the Old Mill if approved. The project requires building a structure to hold the artwork, which may require variances from the city.

The Newton Murals and Arts Project has been fundraising for several months to create its next project — showing snippets of a design as they do.

The project is about to get a much clearer focus, as the Sept. 8 organizers will be at the Newton City Commission meeting asking for permission to move forward with placement of the project in the railroad park downtown.

That spot would put it in between two historic areas that the mural is designed to celebrate — the Old Mill and Hyde Park area along with downtown.

The proposed mural contains references to Newton’s railroad history with images of the train station and Harvey House. It also contains references to the old west history of Hyde Park — site of one of the deadliest old west gun battles in history.

The location, however, provides a bit of a challenge. There is not an existing wall or fence suitable for the mural at the spot selected. To create the work of art, a structure must be constructed — proposed is a metal structure. As a result, the project does not meet the definition of a mural under city code.

“Staff believes this project would be considered a monument sign, that may require a variance,” wrote Suzanne Loomis, director of public works, in a memo to the city commission. “There are several issues that will need to be covered in an agreement that NMAP is working through with the City Attorney. This meeting is just to show the project proposal and then the agreement will be provided at the Sept. 14 meeting for consideration.”

The organization intends to apply for the variance, if that is what is deemed needed by city staff.

Part of the discussion with the city, according to Newton Murals and Art Project board secretary Andrea Braker, is development of a long-term maintenance plan for the upkeep and preservation of the artwork.

The proposed project would also include landscaping and lighting work in the park, along with finishing the back of the structure constructed.

“It is also our intent that the mural is approachable by visitors on foot. The mural will only be slightly elevated off of the ground to encourage people to walk up close to enjoy the artwork,” Braker wrote in a memo to city staff.

Also included, if the project is approved for the location, plaque signage explaining the content of the mural, the history of the project and recognizing project funders.

The project has received funding from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission in addition to community members.

“We will be partnering with several local businesses that will also provide in-kind donations. We do have some fundraising to complete, but anticipate this to be an easy task once we have secured the location with the city and can go public with the project,” Braker wrote.

The latest design of the Newton Mural and Art Project contains references to Newton's history, and may have found a home in the railroad park.