UPDATE: MDOT reportedly allows Woolwich schoolchildren’s tunnel mural work
Update: Woolwich select board member Allison Hepler said a news reporter had been in touch informing her Maine Department of Transportation would allow the mural project to go forward. Hepler added she hadn’t received anything official yet.
“I’m delighted. I was hoping for a positive action on this and MDOT came through for us. It's a win for the town and our school and MDOT,” Hepler commented Tuesday night.
David King Sr., select board chair, said he hadn’t seen anything official from the state but expected to soon. “All we know is what we saw in the newspaper and what was reported on television. I’m happy it worked out so the kids can finish their project.”
An MDOT spokesman hadn’t responded by press time to Wiscasset Newspaper’s messages this week.
The Maine Department of Transportation has put the brakes on a mural schoolchildren were painting in Woolwich’s pedestrian tunnel. Selectmen and school officials were notified by the state the project can’t continue.
The tunnel adjacent to the town’s veteran’s memorial was built in the late 1990s. It was constructed by the state for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross from one side of Route 1 to the other.
"When they opened it, they turned it over to the town and told us we were responsible for everything connected with it except the structure itself,” Selectmen's Chair David King Sr. commented.
"We’ve painted it at the town’s expense, at least three times that can I recall and there’s never been a problem,” he continued. King said the town office hadn’t notified MDOT of the planned mural but the project had been well publicized in advance.
Last fall, after the tunnel was repeatedly targeted with graffiti, the select board replaced broken lighting and had it repainted through a community service program administered by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department.
Woolwich Central School became involved in December, when Selectman Allison Hepler reached out to the school with the idea of painting a mural on the tunnel’s walls.
WCS art teacher Laura Devin supervised the project that involved the school’s student body and community volunteers. The school raised funds to buy paints, brushes and other supplies for the project. Adult volunteers including Hepler pitched in to help with the painting.
The project was about two-thirds done when Hepler got a telephone call from MDOT telling her the painting had to stop. Students had been scheduled to return next week to finish the mural.
News the mural project was being cancelled has since been posted on the school’s website. “It is with great sadness that we unfortunately have to cancel our schoolwide field trip to go to the Walking Tunnel in Woolwich to handprint the wall on May 29. Because the tunnel is MDOT-owned property, we need to obtain special permission from the Maine DOT, even though it was approved by the town of Woolwich,” the statement reads. “Together, we are still working on getting a waiver from the state to allow this project to continue in the fall.”
King said the town office has contacted District 23 Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) in hopes she might work out a compromise with MDOT officials. “"I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next,” King said.
Hepler said Monday, she was remaining optimistic. “I’m really hoping they can see the benefits of the community doing this.”
An MDOT spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.