By BECKY KISER
The two water towers in Hays need to be repainted and a local artist hopes to add a historical mural to the biggest tower.
Dennis Schiel showed his vision for the 1-million gallon tower near the Sternberg Museum of Natural History to city commissioners Thursday night.
“That buffalo you see here is three times as big as the one on the FOX building,” Schiel told commissioners. “Wild Bill Hickok, from the knees up, will be 67 feet high.”
Schiel was referring to the historical mural he painted two years ago for the Ellis County/Hays sesquicentennial on the north brick wall of the FOX Pavilion in downtown Hays. A replica of that mural is hanging on the wall of the city commission chambers in city hall. Last year Schiel created a second large mural on the north side of the Hays VFW on Vine Street which depicts 150 years of military history.
The 80-foot-tall water tower mural would also include a train and a farmer.
He estimates it would cost $260,500 to paint the mural. Schiel plans to apply for a Dane G. Hansen grant as well as solicit other financial donations from the community, which would likely be done under the auspices of the Hays Arts Council. City Attorney John Bird suggested also checking with the Union Pacific Railroad Foundation about grant possibilities.
Schiel wants to do the work in 2019, which would take 12 “dry” months. “It would be completed in 2020, but it may go faster than that.”
He expects the paint job would last at least 20 years.
Vice-Mayor Henry Schwaller questioned how donor names would be included in the work. Schiel suggested a kiosk that would include information about the Hays art community.
“We were talking about that,” Schiel told Schwaller.
“With it being right across from the Sternberg Museum, I think people will drive into that spot. I think eventually we have to think about making a kiosk right there to say this is what Hays has for the arts. We have all these (limestone) statues from Pete Felten, these murals, the arts council. We have all this stuff going on. This would be a perfect place for a kiosk and that might be where the donor names would go, rather than on the mural.”
“I like that idea a lot,” Schwaller said. Commissioner Sandy Jacobs agreed.
All the commissioners supported the idea, but Chris Dinkel had some reservations. “I like the canvas and the concept,” said Dinkel, “but I’m not sure about the content.”
Dinkel said he “loves” Schiel’s other murals, especially the downtown mural which really “fits who we are downtown and the marketing for it. The same is true for the VFW.”
“With the water tower, I get the draw of the history side, but I’m not sure this really does anything for the brand of Hays,” Dinkel said. “I’m not saying I don’t like it, but this would make us look like a ‘Boot Hill’ type of town, and we don’t really have anything to follow up with that like Dodge City would or Abilene would.
“I think there’s a lot more Hays has to offer than just bison and Hickok, Cody and Custer,” said Dinkel.
“Those three people were involved with Hays. The buffalo was great big in Hays, that’s why they all came here, and the railroad was part of that. This is the history I want to represent.” As he traveled around the state, Schiel said he learned Hays has the top “two or three cowboy history in Kansas.”
Commissioner Shaun Musil has Schiel’s downtown mural on his Facebook page.
“I love your work but I kind of disagree with the train,” Musil said. “I’ve never seen Hays do anything to promote the railroad since I’ve been here the past 20 years.”
“Well, Union Pacific did tear our train depot down in the dead of the night,” Bird recalled with a chuckle. “It was not a good thing.”
Mayor James Meier believes the 40 & 8 World War II boxcar in Hays is “also pretty historically significant. I don’t know if you could incorporate that or not,” he said to Schiel. “I’m not an artist,” Meier conceded. “I’ll leave that up to you. It’s just a suggestion.”
“We can’t lose our history,” Jacobs said adamantly. “We may not be Boot Hill, but we have all the historical markers downtown and people who really know a lot about it giving tours.
“I appreciate Commissioner Dinkel’s concerns,” Jacobs added,” but I like this mural.” Schwaller agreed.
Melissa Dixon, director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, was in the audience but did not make any comments.
Jeff Crispin, director of water resources, told commissioners repainting of both two water towers is scheduled for 2019 in the Capital Improvement Plan, but can be moved up to 2018 to accommodate Schiel’s schedule. “City staff has no problem moving the projects up as adequate monies exist in the reserve funds to pay for them,” Crispin advised.
The north water tower at 55th Street along Highway 183 was constructed in 1994 and holds 500,000 gallons. This will be the first time it is repainted, a cost estimated at $100,000.
The Sternberg tower was last recoated in 1997 and now has flaking lead paint which is an environmental concern. Lead remediation is much more costly. The cost estimate for the east tower is $550,000.
“When they sandblast the tower to remove the paint, they basically have to enclose the tower,” explained Crispin. “Usually there’s some sort of structure inside. It’s contained. They take care of the lead and dispose of it properly. We won’t have to deal with the lead again.”
Fort Hays State University has provided a letter of support to update its logo portion of the tower at the university’s expense as part of the project. The “All America City” logo, added after Hays won that designation in 1996, would be removed.
More information about repainting the water towers will be presented at a future city commission meeting.