St. Louis-area kids showcase public works art

Saturday, May 18, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

CHESTERFIELD — Kids' artwork from four Chesterfield elementary schools will go on the road this winter.

In fact, it will be on blades for the snow plows that keep those roads clear.

Mike Geisel, Chesterfield's director of public services, said the effort is being done in honor of National Public Works Week, which starts May 20.

The theme of the week this year is the quality of life brought to communities around the world.

"This year, in our city's 25th year of providing public works services, we hope to expand our visibility and outreach activities in the community a little further," he said.

The public works department has a history of working with area school districts. The department regularly brings in vehicles like a bucket truck and an asphalt truck for display at schools, dispenses coloring books, pencils and stickers provided by the American Public Works Association, and provides speakers to talk about math, science, engineering, computer mapping and public works careers.

"Reaching out to the schools helps to expand our visibility and increase public understanding of what we do," said Kim Streicher, a civil engineer with the city.

The snow plow idea was featured in an American Public Works Association trade magazine article written by the community outreach coordinator for the city of Raymore, Mo.

Streicher contacted their public works director who shared some ideas for getting the project started.

The department delivered snow plow blades to four Chesterfield elementary schools - Wild Horse and Chesterfield in the Rockwood School District, and Green Trails and Highcroft Ridge in the Parkway School District.

The plow blades were cleaned, sanded and prepped prior to delivery, and each school will decorate them.

The snow plow blades are 10 feet long and about 3 feet high, so they make a nice big canvas — albeit metal ones.

"Each school has a day, either May 20 or 21, scheduled for their own event, during which we will have a "plow parade" of the four illustrated plows, and we will also have other public works equipment on display," Geisel said. Parades will take place at each of the schools between those days.

"We will also bring informational boards, coloring books, and promotional stickers."

Meredith Luethy, art teacher at Wild Horse Elementary School, praised the effort.

"It took a while for the city to be able to let us have a snow plow blade since it's been snowing well into March and they were in use," she said.

The school's five classes of fifth-graders are painting the plows and learning about public works at the same time, she said.

"The design will be a Stallion, in honor of our Wild Horse mascot, and underneath will be a banner with blue and yellow snowflakes to reflect school colors," Luethy said.

"It's cool for the students to get to paint on something that's not paper, so this will be an unusual canvas," she said. "And, in winter, this will be on the snowplow that they could see next winter plowing their streets."

Marla Mayer, an art teacher from Highcroft Ridge Elementary School, said the school's fourth-graders are painting their plow.

"Our design says, "Highcroft Ridge is a great place to grow," with flowers of all colors on it," she said.

"It'll be fun to have colorful flowers in the winter on the plow," Mayer said. "This was a good project for the kids because it's important to do collaborative work, and their artwork will be seen throughout the community."

At Green Trails Elementary School, art teacher Chip Darr said all students will get a crack at doing the artwork. Although no design has been decided on, he expects an abstraction along the lines of a Jackson Pollock painting.

The kids will be working on it during a field day on May 20.

"I think doing this helps kids take part in the community, producing mobile public artwork that will travel throughout the city, which is invaluable," Darr said.

Julie Glossenger, an art teacher at Chesterfield Elementary School, said she thinks the snow plow project offers children an insight into what it means to be a professional artist.

The project also has given "the students an impression of how they can use their skills to make a positive difference in their own neighborhood," she said.

Her students are creating an abstract design with colors that remind them of the winter months when the snow plow will be in use.

"The design was made by taping off sections of the plow into smaller shapes and each student had an opportunity to paint one or more shapes," she said.

"When we're finished, we'll remove the tape and see the first coat of paint underneath, spray painted gold," Glossenger said. "We're hoping it will remind the community of cracked ice or ice crystals."

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