Deb Fahy made her way through the construction zone on Water Street in Hallowell Wednesday to retrieve more than two dozen murals from the Department of Transportation’s field office.

The murals, painted and installed Saturday on fencing that lined the work zone of the Water Street reconstruction project in Hallowell, were gone by Tuesday.

State transportation officials said they posed a hazard to safety in the work zone, even as other signs advertising downtown businesses were allowed to remain hanging up on the fences.

“Sadly, the drivers won’t see the murals,” Fahy, executive director of Hallowell’s Harlow Gallery, said Wednesday.

Planning for the massive reconstruction project has been in the works for more than two years; as early as 2015, Water Street business owners have been concerned about the impact that rerouting traffic through the town’s retail center will have on their businesses.

The mural project was developed recently as one of the strategies to keep people interested in coming to Hallowell and stopping in its businesses, despite the construction that will be going on for much of the rest of this year, with some finish work scheduled to take place in 2019.

“When we were talking about the design process, I agreed to allow them to hang (the murals) on the fence, but they have to hang facing the sidewalk,” Ernie Martin, project manager for the Department of Transportation, said Wednesday.

The biggest issue is safety, Martin said.

On Monday, construction workers found a man standing in the work zone, taking photos of the murals. Martin said the man was told he had to take photos from outside the work zone. Martin said the man then stood in the middle of the single traffic lane on Water Street, and that was not allowed, either.

Martin said the work zone is off limits to all but the construction workers even when no one is working.

“There’s so much construction equipment out there and so many moving parts, the murals will be hard to see,” he said.

In discussions about the project, Fahy said the agreement was that the murals could go on the fence.

“And I guess the committee was picturing them facing out,” she said. “That way, you see the construction and the color and the light and it tells passersby that Hallowell is open.”

As discussions about the project started to take shape, Fahy said the Department of Transportation had said no ads or logos would be allowed.

“Everyone was working under those rules,” she said. “Now they are letting people put signs outside of the fence. That wasn’t on the table until just this week.”

Martin said the business signs will be allowed if they are attached at the top so they can face out during the day, and flipped back over the fence at night.

The first round of paintings were completed Saturday at a community painting event that drew people from across the region to make their mark on Hallowell. They painted on unstretched canvas using acrylic paints, and the canvases were hung using zip ties through the grommets on the corners of the canvas pieces.

Fahy said they were designed that way so they could be moved when work zone shifts from the east side of the street to the west side of the street later this year.

And more canvases are coming. Requests for canvases to paint have come in from the Hall-Dale elementary and middle schools, and some canvases are destined to go to Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, Cony High School in Augusta and the Snow Pond Arts Academy in Sidney as well as the University of Maine at Augusta and Spinoff Studios in Gardiner.

Fahy acknowledged that going into the work zone to hang the art is not safe.

“I guess now you have to get out of your car to see them, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

The mural project is one of the initiatives of the Down with the Crown Committee, which is working on a marketing campaign to promote Water Street businesses during construction.

Martin said the murals are great.

“It’s a way for the community to join in the construction and help us through, he said. “We are all well aware of the businesses and the trials and tribulations of having businesses in an active construction zone.”

Martin said the transportation department wants to make sure the public is aware that the businesses are open.

Fahy said the topic is likely to come up at the next Board of Trade meeting in Hallowell, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Maple Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast. She said she hopes department officials will attend.

“Hallowell is an artistic community, and arts and culture are part of our core values here,” Nate Rudy, Hallowell city manager, said Wednesday. “There are still some fine points that need to be ironed out as far as specific rules for what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds.”

Rudy said the city values art and culture, and he’s sure the transportation department is “aware of that now.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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