‘Whittling Wall’ contract to be awarded

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

A key step in the development of downtown Mount Airy’s celebrated “Whittling Wall” could come this afternoon with the awarding of a contract.

Plans call for the historic wall — located along West Oak Street near its intersection with North Main Street — to be lined with statues of notable local residents, with the help of a $94,340 state grant.

This will breathe new life into a now-empty site where older local residents once gathered to whittle and trade stories while their wives shopped at downtown stores.

During a meeting beginning today at 2 p.m., the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will consider the approval of a contract for preliminary work on the wall in preparation of the statues being added later.

The purpose of the project at hand is to rehabilitate the existing concrete wall that was the foundation of the former Blue Ridge Hotel along West Oak Street.

This will include only the re-facing of the wall with brick and Mount Airy granite, and will not involve work with the statues — which will be a separate step later on in the process.

Two local companies submitted bids for the rehab job, the lowest by Colt W. Simmons Construction of $31,500.

That firm was the subcontractor for a previous project to develop Carlos Jones Blue Ridge Park at the corner of West Oak and North Main streets. The Whittling Wall effort is viewed as a continuation of the earlier project which included the building of a heavily used gazebo at the corner.

A city staff recommendation for the contract to be awarded today to Colt W. Simmons Construction notes its “satisfactory past performance” on municipal contracts.

The proposal before the commissioners includes $40,000 being set aside for the rehab work, to cover any contingencies that could exceed the $31,500 contract price.

Plans call for the statues to be sculpted by a Reidsville artist, Brad Spencer, who specializes in brick sculpture, a medium dating to ancient Babylon hailed as a durable art form that blends in with other settings.

The statues will be of individuals who have played key roles in this area’s unique musical, economic and cultural heritage.

Based on a presentation during a September commissioners meeting, the list includes Grammy-winning country and pop singer Donna Fargo, a local native who now lives in Nashville.

Other statues will depict Ralph Epperson, founder of local radio station WPAQ, which has preserved an area tradition with its mountain music format; old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell; Fred Cockerham, an old-time banjo player and fiddler; and Flip Rees, a longtime retailer in Mount Airy who is credited for much of the success of downtown Mount Airy today.

Two other likenesses will pay tribute to local history in a different way — one will be of a mill worker and the other a whittler reminiscent of the wall’s heritage.

Under a previously released timetable, the statues are to be in place by August 2017, along with landscaping and bronze plaques.

The $94,340 downtown-revitalization grant that is making the statue project possible was awarded to Mount Airy by the N.C. Department of Commerce during the summer.

Other agenda items

Among other business at today’s meeting, the city commissioners are scheduled to:

• Consider authorizing the purchase of a roll-off truck that will be used for collecting trash from industrial customers, sludge from the city wastewater-treatment plant and any large-size debris. Money for the $154,150 total cost involved was included in the sanitation budget for the present fiscal year, with the truck to replace a 1994 vehicle with more than 150,000 miles.

• Recognize the winner of a recent greenway-naming contest and adopt the name chosen.

• Set a public hearing regarding zoning changes related to recent updates of flood insurance rate maps.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce


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