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Martinsburg City Council tables plans for sculpture of founder

December 09, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — City leaders have tabled plans to commission a sculpture of Martinsburg's founder, Revolutionary War Major Gen. Adam Stephen, and place it in the newly redesigned town square.

Citing costs created by changes to the recently completed town square project, Mayor George Karos told the Martinsburg City Council Thursday that "it wouldn't be very wise ... at this juncture to move forward with the selection of a sculptor for the artwork."

"What we don't know is the cost of the changes that took place down in the plaza, and let me tell you there were a lot of changes," Karos said of the $1.6 million pedestrian safety project for the town square.

Changes to the project included additional paving on portions of King and Queen streets leading to the square intersection and replacement of gravel pathways in the north lawn of the square with concrete, according to City Manager Mark Baldwin.

Also changed was the type of paver originally installed in the intersection, as was the design for laying them. The latter was changed after officials determined the materials used were failing to withstand the traffic volume in the intersection.

The council previously agreed to pay 20 percent, or a little more than $320,000, of the project's cost after Triton Construction Inc's bid exceeded the amount of state and federal grant funding awarded for  safety and aesthetic improvements.  

While a pedestal for the statue has been built as part of the contract, the artwork itself could not be added to the redesign of the square because the project's financing included grant funding that cannot be spent on what is considered art, officials had said.

Karos noted that a statute committee had been formed to recommend a sculptor for the project, but also acknowledged concerns aired by council members about taxpayers shouldering the artwork's cost, which has been estimated to be $50,000 to $60,000.  

Karos also indicated that a statute of Stephen would require research because no image of Stephen apparently exists.

Keith Hammersla, curator of the General Adam Stephen Memorial Association Inc., previously confirmed that no known portrait of Stephen exists, but also said that a composite could be developed based on an existing portrait of a grandson of Stephen's.

"There has been a lot of discussion concerning the cost, the funding and the appearance of Adam Stephen," Karos said before council members voted unanimously Thursday to table the project.

"My feeling is at this juncture is we should take our time to decide what to put on that pedestal," he said.

Randy Lewis, executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, said he agreed with the decision to delay the project on hold and suggested  that town meetings be held on the issue in the future to involve the public.

A Scotland-born physician, Stephen served in the French and Indian War and rose to the rank of major general in the Revolutionary War under George Washington. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and was Berkeley County's first sheriff.  

If not a sculpture of Stephen, Lewis said some "substantial" artwork should be placed on the pedestal that is representative of the city.  

And although Lewis was sympathetic with the city's concerns about the expense of the bronze sculpture, he hopes the delay doesn't last too long.

"It doesn't look finished (without the artwork)," he said.

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