An effort to brighten up the Old Town has led to some concern from Dock Area residents.
In a pilot project of the Town’s Communities in Bloom Committee, Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro and the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre, three electrical transformers have been selected to be fancied up by way of an art competition.
Artists are invited to submit a design, and those selected will have their artwork transferred onto a vinyl wrap to beautify the boxes. Those chosen for the project by NOTL Hydro are located at King and Ricardo Streets, Memorial Park off King Street, and on Front Street near Victoria Street.
But Ron and Irene Simkus, along with Tony Poulton and a few others who have responded through email, are concerned the project could prove dangerous.
Simkus, a retired mining engineer who has been keeping Dock Area residents up to date on waterfront issues and the lake level, said he discovered the plan to beautify electrical boxes on social media, and felt compelled to notify town council and NOTL Hydro, which he did through email.
“My wife is a retired primary school teacher, my background is in engineering, and Tony comes from the insurance underwriting industry,” he explained.
“Teachers have for years taught the basics of safety with electricity to children. It’s important to see that the message for children about pad-mounted electrical transformers is simple. They can even be dangerous for adults.”
The message the Town should be sending is to stay away from “the big green box,” he said. “These boxes should not be attention-grabbers, or perceived as playground features. Just walking through Old Town, we saw many examples of transformers with service access obstructed by plantings and landscaping. The guidelines for 10 feet of access to the front and four feet around just isn’t being followed.”
In some cases the warning stickers were obviously scrubbed off the box to make the big green box more invisible, he said.
“These transformers are, of course, safe, otherwise they wouldn’t be installed all over the community. But they need to be treated with respect. They are critical components of our residential infrastructure, not garden accessories for taking selfies, or tables to place your lunch on and abandon coffee cups on.”
If the Town wants to beautify the transformers, Simkus suggested asking artists to come up with more eclectic ways of applying the universal safety message to stay away from the boxes and avoid injury.
“Very few people have had to attend the scene of a high-voltage electrical fatality or interview a survivor. I’ve done both, and that’s why I take this topic so very seriously,” said Simkus.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said if there was any danger from the project, NOTL Hydro would not have agreed to it.
Municipalities across Canada, including “right in the heart of downtown Toronto,” have decorated electrical boxes, she said.
She was recently in St. John’s, NL, and “I loved the hydro boxes there,” she said.
“We’ll move ahead cautiously, we’ll take it slow. This is a pilot project, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Disero said they could talk about putting the danger symbol in one corner, warning people not to get too close.
But as far as it being a danger to wrap the boxes in artwork, she said, “I think we have to agree to disagree.”
The competition is open to artists who live or work in the Niagara Region.
The deadline for submissions is Sept.18. Three winners will be notified by Sept. 25. Three selected artists must submit high resolution JPGs by Sept 28. Each will receive a $500 honorarium. There is a cost of $20 to enter, and entry forms are available at tiny.cc.hhafbz.