Teen will strip and repaint weathered mural wall for his senior project

In 2017, two high school seniors worked together to help create outdoor artwork meant to educate and forge a lasting bond with participating younger students. Now, almost seven years later, another high school senior will strip it away.

Nate Rooney chose for his senior project to remove the weathered mural at the Parks and Recreation community center outer stairwell opposite the swimming pool. The wall art features hand-crafted cutouts of salmon fastened to a painted wall resembling the ocean. He plans to remove the cutouts, then take off the remaining paint and recoat the wall entirely in one solid color.

The mural was originally completed in 2017 as the joint senior project of then-high schoolers Alex Angerman and Karl Torgramsen. The seniors worked with a summer program at Parks and Recreation to engage the artistic skills of elementary school students. While learning the biology and environmental role of salmon, the grade schoolers painted 62 wooden stencils of colorful salmon shapes that were then attached to the sea-colored wall.

Parks and Recreation Director Lucy Robinson said the wall art was beautiful when it was first put together. "We just didn't have a maintenance plan for it."

Lacking necessary weatherproofing, the wall and salmon fell prey to the elements over the years. Cracks formed in the wall. The textured, turquoise paint meant to evoke an ocean backdrop has been flaking off, while the top of the mural is tinged with rust stains from the metal railing above.

"That wall's in terrible shape," Rooney said.

The bright colors of the many salmon shapes have faded to gray and white. The high school senior showed where each had some sort of small spike attaching it to the wall. "I'm not sure how they got these things on, though. It's not a bolt. I don't know if it's a nail."

Once a lifeguard at the pool, Rooney mentioned to Robinson earlier this school year that he was trying to decide on his senior project, so she suggested the removal of the mural. He's still focused on gathering all the materials needed for the project and plans to start once the worst of the winter weather has passed, working with Parks and Recreation staffer Lane Fitzjarrald.

Rooney anticipates that the toughest aspects of the assignment will be removing the salmon shapes, as well as the repainting the wall, keeping track of weather forecasts in hopes that it doesn't rain before it fully dries.

However, he is looking forward to one part of the job. "The pressure washing, that's going to be pretty fun," he said. "I've used them before, but I've never used them consistently on a big wall like that. ... It's a decently sized wall."

His background provided him with the experience needed for the project. "My dad owns a commercial fishing boat," he said. "Every so often, he'll bring it out of the water and we'll pressure wash the bottom. Or the back deck sometimes needs to be pressure washed, just smaller projects like that."

After graduation, Rooney is considering learning a vocation like welding or diesel mechanics at a trade school such as Northern Industrial Training in Palmer.

Besides hanging out with friends, Rooney has appreciation for others who were present during his high school years. "I'll definitely miss all the teachers," he said. "They helped push me through everything."

One thing he won't miss is having to get up early for class.


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