What we think: Beauty of new AC screen is in eyes of beholder

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That $109,000-plus device to hide the ugly AC at the Shelby County Judicial Center is in place. But is that a good thing?

Because of incorrect information supplied to The Sentinel-News, articles on the front page and continuing inside on July 27 and Aug. 1 defined incorrectly the construction project to hide the air-conditioning unit outside the Shelby County Judicial Center. The barricade built around the unit is no fence.


We were compelled to enter a formal clarification about what has evolved in the $109,180 boondoggle of “Fence-gate” – every fence must have a gate, correct? – that was designed to protect our senses from an offensive and hideously ugly cooling tower outside our lovely and spanking new $22 million building.

The project was completed last week, and it now is coolly obvious that what was being described as a “fence” is more accurately a “facade,” which would seem an even more appropriate outcome for a process that can be defined appropriately as a “false front” for fundamental fiscal fiduciarity.

We can bemoan the spending by the Shelby County Project Board and the state Administrative Office of the Courts of taxpayers’ money to remove what one or more team members considered to be an outrageous eyesore, but the work has been done, which has left us with an entirely different question:

Is what we have now on the northwest corner of the property any “prettier” than what we had?

That is a decision for you, beholders. We don’t have the architectural acuity to be able to answer that question. You can study for yourselves these before-and-after photographs. Is one design more aesthetically wonderful than the other?

We admit that what we see looks nothing like the cooling tower. In fact, this monstrosity is eerily reminiscent of a villainous alien structure in a long-ago episode of Star Trekor Lost In Space. Or perhaps the new image should be described as an homage to R2-D2.

We are not sure about that. We only know that these taxpayers dollars that were spent to hide this of-fence-iveunit didn’t buy obvious optical relief from anything. The work simply re-imaged the unit into something that someone finds more pleasing, something that certainly doesn’t look like what the unit is, sort of like it was Photoshopped.

What was performed was not a construction project but more cosmetic surgery, which leads us to wonder if money could have been saved by asking Dr. Donn Chatham to donate his talent to saving his hometown from its own ugliness. Did anyone ask?

And perhaps that’s another reason the price tag for this effort was of significance to draw the ire of fiscal conservatives across our county. There is reason to suggest that the cost for this “surgery” grew in the era of rising insurance costs because of the Affordable Care Act. Surely the so-called SCPB filed with its carrier for this obvious prime fascia procedure.

We recently learned how the decision came down because the AOC finally located the minutes of the meeting when four people basically decided  to spend the money on this project because, well, the funds remained there to be spent, deciding this was a better use for the dollars than, say, making an extra mortgage payment on the public debt.

From those minutes – and the AOC required  weeks to find these obviously public records from a meeting three months ago – we almost know the answers to several other questions that linger about this project:

Just what pushed members of the board to accept this as must-do and when did it first come up?

What were the costs of other options to meet the goal of hiding the awful unit? How many bids were received?

Was Lewis Mathis at the meeting or was he not (he appears to want to know this himself)?

And why in the name of “green” could large trees not be planted around the unit to create something that truly was beautiful and natural and not leave us with a box that might someday be touched by Steven Spielberg or Stephen King and mutated into some terrible colony of terminators or transformers or something?

Yes, this has been a story of ugly when it comes to how public dollars should be spent. The work was requested, and the bill was paid.  But did we get a silk purse for our sow’s ear? Only you can decide that.

For our part, we will leave you with an effort to try to find hope for our future, hope that this entire project someday, somehow will have a fairy-tale ending:

Perhaps this ugly duckling will emerge a beautiful swan.