When the city of Spokane’s Wastewater Management Department needed to replace some manhole covers, it certainly could have gone with the standard design it already had. Instead, a decision was made to hold a children’s art contest asking for visually appealing designs that reflect of the city of Spokane.
It turns out that lots of youngsters liked that idea; the city received more than 625 entries, making it very difficult to pick a winner.
In the end, staff of the Wastewater Management Department, the Spokane Arts Commission and community representatives chose Claire Mattes’ design, which incorporates the familiar skyline created by the Riverfront Park Clock Tower and the Pavilion, as well as fish swimming in the river and tall pine trees.
“I was pretty surprised that I won,” said Claire, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Shaw Middle School in Hillyard. Claire and her design were recognized at the City Council meeting Monday night.
It was her art teacher, Dean Tyler-Babkirk who got her interested in the contest.
“The announcement came with our utility bill and my wife saw it,” Tyler-Babkirk said. “I decided to give the contest as a class assignment.”
It’s the first time Tyler-Babkirk has used a real contest as a class assignment.
“I guess you can say that was a success,” Tyler-Babkirk said, adding that he hopes to purchase one of the manhole covers designed by Mattes. “I’d want it here at the school, for students to see.”
Mattes said she initially thought of the manhole art contest as just another grade.
“We got some pictures of Spokane to look at, and I did four sketches,” Mattes said. “I don’t know why I picked that one. I guess I liked it the best. I can’t really remember what the other ones looked like.”
The class looked at manhole covers from around the world, including some from Russia and Germany.
“We also talked about the casting process, and what was practical,” said Tyler-Babkirk. “There has to be holes in the cover so it can be lifted up; cars drive over it; it can’t be too slick; all that stuff.”
Karen Mobley, the city’s arts director, said Mattes’ design will be on a year’s supply of replacement manhole covers.
“I believe it’s just about 150 covers. We are not replacing all the covers in the city,” Mobley said. “The life expectancy of a manhole cover and the ring it rests on is roughly 30 to 50 years. Some locations, like Division Street, get a lot of big trucks and snowplows and heavy wear and tear. There, a cover may only last 5 to 10 years.”
The manhole covers are made of cast iron. Each cover weighs about 140 pounds, Mobley said. Together with the ring it rests on, each unit can weigh between 340 and 370 pounds.
“Claire’s design will be transferred from paper using a computer-aided drafting device, and they will clean up the design a little bit and stretch it to fit a full-size cover,” said Mobley. “The dark parts will be raised and the lighter parts will be lowered.”
The cost of the new manhole covers is similar to the usual: about $250 a piece Mobley said.
“That price is without installing and hardware. When they are done, they will be trucked here and installed over the next year or so,” Mobley explained. “They are not going to be colored. They are made out of cast iron and will be roughly the same color as the ones we have.”
Mattes will receive $100 in prize money and the knowledge that the covers she designed will be around for many years. She said she has always been interested in drawing, but for now she’ll focus on her own comic strip.
“It’s this freaky little line of cartoons about Splat,” Mattes said, sketching out her main character on a piece of scrap paper. “I’d consider Splat human, but that would defy the laws of physics, because no matter what happens to him he always comes back.”
Does she see a career as a metal artist in her future?
“Probably not,” she said, smiling. “I like pencil drawing and clay. That would have to be it.”