Mount Airy officials are striking a pose that could lead to approving a $50,000-plus agreement with a Reidsville artist to create seven life-size sculptures of noteworthy local residents for a site downtown.
During their first 2017 meeting, Thursday at 2 p.m., the city commissioners will consider that proposal and a budget amendment to cover cost overruns for the project targeting the “Whittling Wall” at the corner of North Main and West Oak streets.
The effort is costing more than first planned — $10,582 to be exact — largely because of a decision by the commissioners in September to include seven custom brick sculptures rather than six as initially suggested.
Included will be likenesses of Grammy-winning country and pop singer Donna Fargo, a Mount Airy native; Ralph Epperson, the founder of local radio station WPAQ; old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell; Fred Cockerham, an old-time banjo player and fiddler; and Flip Rees, a longtime retailer in downtown Mount Airy.
There will also be statues depicting a mill worker and a whittler, respectively representing a key segment of the local economy and the tradition behind the Whittling Wall itself. Years ago, men would gather at the downtown spot — near the present site of Carlos Jones Blue Ridge Park, to whittle, chew tobacco and swap stories while their wives shopped.
City officials, who are working with the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc. on the sculpture effort, had projected that the total expense of the statues and related site preparations would be funded by a $94,340 state grant. It was awarded to Mount Airy last year by the N.C. Department of Commerce to provide a downtown enhancement.
However, the decision to have a Reidsville artist provide seven rather than six sculptures elevated the bottom line as well as masonry fees of about $3,500 which were not included originally.
Brad Spencer, the sculptor, earlier was expected to supply six statues at a cost of $7,000 to $8,000 each, with a total of $48,000 budgeted for that segment. Spencer specializes in brick sculpture, a medium dating to ancient Babylon hailed as a durable art form that blends in with other settings.
The $58,623 agreement to be considered by the commissioners Thursday afternoon for seven sculptures reflects the artist’s base fees of $52,459, plus a 5-percent contingency fee, $2,623, to cover any unexpected expenses. It also includes $3,541 in sales taxes that will be reimbursed to Mount Airy.
In early November, the commissioners voted to award a $31,500 contract to Colt W. Simmons Construction, LLC, to rehabilitate the Whittling Wall site. A total of $40,000 was budgeted to address any contingencies of the re-facing project for wall construction and sidewalk replacement.
There also is a separate line-item expense of $6,340 for landscaping and bronze plaques that will identify each sculpture.
All this shakes out to the extra $10,582 being needed to meet the total net price tag of $104,922, which is minus the sales taxes. Based on wording in a proposed amendment to the 2016-2017 municipal budget to incorporate it, the money will come from the city’s fund balance, or “surplus” revenues.
Under a timetable released for the Whittling Wall project, the statues are to be in place by August, along with the landscaping and bronze plaques, with a grand opening and dedication ceremony set for Sept. 15.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.