The City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to paint over a 15-year-old mural on a city water tank. The mural is in disrepair and would cost an estimated $40,000 to replace.

The eastern gateway to Walla Walla on U.S. Highway 12 could become less “welcoming” after Walla Walla City Council votes Wednesday on whether to paint over the mural on its Mill Creek water tank. 

Since Karen Heinzman hand painted the mural in the summer of 2004, the “Welcome to Historic Walla Walla” greeting has adorned one of the two, 7 million-gallon steel tanks at the Mill Creek water treatment plant visible from the highway. 

“Yes, it is very sad that the mural will be painted over,” Heinzman wrote in an email to the Union-Bulletin this morning. “It is a great iconic representation of our community to present to visitors! However, it has deteriorated so much that it would have to be redone anyway if the funding were there.” 

The wrong type of primer was used originally, but that’s a long story, she wrote. 

The mural cost $26,280, she said. The Rotary Club of Walla Walla (or Noon Rotary) paid for the bulk of it at $18,800. Other large donations included $2,400 from ProBuild, $2,000 from Sun Rental and $3,000 from Heinzman’s own business, Sign DeSigns. 

“Of course, to redo (it) today would cost much more,” Heinzman said. 

It was completed almost exactly 15 years ago, on Sept. 12, on the 100th anniversary of Rotary International.  

The mural has been touched up many times by various people over the years, according to incoming Rotary Club President Tom Osborn. 

“It kind of peels,” he said. “Moisture, solar radiation, they all cause problems with the painting.” 

Now both tanks need to be repainted in their entirety, according to the city. The exterior paint is failing, the staff report states. 

On the agenda for City Council’s regular session starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall is an item to award a bid to repaint the two water tanks, originally installed and painted white in 1999, to Long Painting Company, of Kent, Wash., for $336,501.  

The bid does not, according to the staff report, include repainting the mural. Current estimates are around $40,000 for that. 

“Funds to repaint the mural are not in the city’s General Fund budget, and it would be questionable to justify spending Drinking Water Funds on the aesthetic element,” the notes to City Council read. 

The city manager reached out to Rotary leadership earlier this year to see if they would be interested in paying for replacement of the mural, but “no action occurred,” according to the meeting agenda notes. 

“The city told us they were going to sandblast it and repaint it,” Osborn confirmed. The Rotary club hasn’t been maintaining the mural recently, he said. 

But he would like to see the mural replaced with something, he said. Maybe another “welcome” sign similar to the Milton-Freewater mural on that neighboring city’s water tank, or just a greeting painted with big letters, on the Mill Creek water tank or another key spot, that might be less expensive — if a partnership of organizations could get together the money jointly to pay for something. 

Heinzman said nobody has approached her officially about redoing the mural, “although there has been talk by interested citizens,” she said, 

“I do have an estimate of what it would cost to do the mural in vinyl rather than painting it again — however, it can certainly be painted again (without the culprit primer!) Actual labor on the tank (not including design time) was 483.5 hours back in 2004!” 

Dian Ver Valen can be reached at dianvervalen@wwub.com or 509-526-8320.

Dian is U-B news editor and editor of Lifestyles magazine. She has worked in local journalism since receiving her bachelor's in journalism from Western Washington University in 2003. She received her master's in communication and leadership from Gonzaga.