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Sculptures over Freya Street deemed unsafe in high winds

SUNDAY, AUG. 26, 2012

Artist Roger Ralston’s sculptures on the Freya Street overpass have been removed. (File)
Artist Roger Ralston’s sculptures on the Freya Street overpass have been removed. (File)

Art’s status above bridge sways

The future of three colorful sculptures that moved in the wind on the Freya Street Bridge is in limbo as officials debate an unexpected engineering challenge.

The artwork by local sculptor Roger Ralston was attached to light poles on the bridge when it was constructed in 2010.

But city bridge crews noticed that the sculptures swayed more than expected in certain wind conditions and became concerned that they might eventually fall.

“They had some very adverse movement,” said Street Director Mark Serbousek. “Instead of taking our chances, we played it safe.”

The art works were removed from the poles by city crews earlier this year and are being stored by Ralston as engineers consider how best to reinstall them, said Spokane Art Director Karen Mobley.

Mobley said she doubts the art will go back on the same light poles.

Coffman Engineers provided design suggestions on the installation of the sculptures and has offered to assist the city with installation in a new location, said Karl Kolb, a principal engineer at the firm. Coffman was not involved in selecting the poles that were used on the bridge.

One possibility is to install the work on poles attached to the ground at the ends of the bridge, Mobley said. It’s unclear if a new solution could be implemented with existing city property and labor.

Construction of the $7 million bridge began in 2009, and it opened in 2010. It replaced two side-by-side spans, the oldest of which was built in 1928. The sculptures cost about $100,000, including the engineering work, Mobley said.

Ralston told The Spokesman-Review in 2010 that his work was extensively studied to make sure it was safe in high winds.

“I couldn’t just start drilling holes in the lampposts, and they are shaped so we couldn’t just slide something down over them,” Ralston said. “It took a good seven months before the engineers were comfortable that my sculptures wouldn’t pull down the lampposts in a 100-mile-per-hour wind.”

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