WOOLWICH — A mural painting project started earlier this month and then stopped by the Department of Transportation continued Tuesday after the DOT decided to allow the project to move forward.

Led by art teacher Laura Devin, nearly 400 students from Woolwich Central School spent the day painting their handprints onto the northern wall of the bicycle and pedestrian bridge under U.S. Route 1 just over the Sagadahoc Bridge in Woolwich.

“It’s been so wonderful,” Devin said.

Devin is coming back June 13 with students from the school’s gifted and talented program to paint the south side wall with designs including a deer, dragon, spaceman and map of the Midcoast.

The next day, the bridge will be dedicated to a longtime community member and town volunteer during a special ceremony; Woolwich selectwoman Allison Hepler declined to name the honoree because it’s supposed to be a surprise, though she joked the board should probably find out if the person is available on June 14 to attend.

Hepler and a group of Woolwich officials and residents began painting the mural — flowing water and trees — on May 5 before being told by the DOT that they had to stop because painting the walls could prevent inspector from seeing stress cracks in the concrete.

However, because of poor communication between DOT and the people involved in the mural project, the department decided it to let the project continue, DOT press secretary Ted Talbot said.

“We said no to be consistent with policy,” Talbot said, “however, because we believe we didn’t communicate in a timely manner from the beginning, we felt it would be unfair to halt it.”

Talbot said it is important to note that allowing a project like this is “extremely rare” because of the project potentially compromising the inspection process.

Devin said she was expecting about 380 students to participate throughout the day, and there have been several adults who’ve also taken the opportunity to leave their mark on the tunnel.

The students painted their hands as leaves on the trees and signed their names before walking as a large group to the veteran’s memorial on the other side of Route 1.

The activity, aside from the fun painting, teaches students about civic engagement, Devin said, because they’ll see their names on the wall and will want them to remain, so the students will be able to discuss who is in charge of keeping the tunnel is good shape and protecting the mural.

Hepler said the tunnel was included in the project when Route 1 was widened more than 20 years ago to allow people on the east side of the road to access services like the post office across the busy highway.

“It turns out the town was responsible for the landscaping and replacing the lights, but the contract with the DOT doesn’t say much about painting,” Hepler said. “It said the DOT is responsible for the structural maintenance.”

The tunnel isn’t used often, so it was an easy target for people to deface the walls with graffiti, and residents of Woolwich would often take it upon themselves to paint over it

There was some vulgar graffiti in the tunnel recently, Hepler said, so the Select Board decided it was time to take the initiative to clean it up once and for all.

“I wanted to paint it last fall, and people complained to the Select Board, so we reached out to (Devin) and we came up with the design and plan,” Hepler said.

Lowes in Brunswick donated a significant portion of the paint and the school held a fundraiser for the other supplies. The project isn’t costing the school or the town — or a Woolwich taxpayer — any money.

“This has been a total community effort,” Devin said.

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