Painting “The Rock” on the corner of Hill Street and Washtenaw Avenue is a beloved campus tradition for many students and alumni. However, the antics associated with the University landmark are less popular among Ann Arbor city officials and residents of the neighborhoods surrounding George Washington Park, home of The Rock.
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While the city never attempts to remove paint from The Rock itself, paint intended to decorate the boulder frequently ends up on city property, including sidewalks, trash cans and signs. In previous years, the city has spent hundreds, and at times thousands, of dollars to clean the area that will likely never remain pristine.
Ann Arbor park maintenance employees are responsible for periodically cleaning the area and responding to complaints from residents.
In a January 2009 e-mail to Ann Arbor City Council members, Karla Henderson, former Ann Arbor field operations supervisor, reported that the city spent more than $2,500 in 2007 on removing graffiti at George Washington Park, according to a2docs.org — a website, which posts documents regarding the city of Ann Arbor obtained by residents and organizations.
“We spent $2,662 for 2 visits (painting) and 24 visits to check to make sure that there was no vandalism,” Henderson wrote in the e-mail.
But, Matt Warba, the city’s current field operations supervisor, wrote in an e-mail interview that the 2007 cleaning expenses were larger than what the city usually spends to clean up the area.
“The city expended less than $100 in time and material last calendar year addressing graffiti at that location,” Warba wrote, referencing 2009’s expenses.
Warba explained that he does not have access to detailed figures on clean up of The Rock prior to 2008 and cannot corroborate the number mentioned in Henderson’s e-mail.
According to Craig Hupy, Ann Arbor systems planning manager, records and estimates of normal expenditure on Rock clean up before 2008 are no longer available.
“If that knowledge was in the organization, it has left with changes in employment,” Hupy said. “Prior to the graffiti ordinance, I don’t think anyone within the city was doing a very good job tracking it.”
A Freedom of Information Act requested in May by The Michigan Daily also stated that the city has no records for maintenance costs for The Rock before 2008.
Information about the city’s policy on Rock maintenance in 2007 is also no longer available, according to Warba. Currently, graffiti removal is not part of regularly scheduled maintenance of the park, he added.
“The only time we react or ‘clean up’ the area is when the graffiti is deemed offensive or vulgar,” Warba wrote. “The city does not schedule regular clean up of the Rock.”
City operations personnel visited the park this spring to repaint the walkway around The Rock, which is often hit by stray paint. According to Warba, the city allocated $418.50 — spent on paint, sand grit and employee work time — to clean the area.
Both Warba and Hupy speculated that the $2,662 spent on George Washington Park in 2007 may have been because the city power washed the sidewalk around The Rock that year.
“A few years ago the city did power wash the sidewalk, but the effort was in vain and that practice no longer takes place,” Warba wrote. “An effort was made to try and clean up the area but due to the continuous volume of painting, the decision was made to only address those things deemed offensive or gang related.”
According to Warba, the city responds within 24 hours of receiving complaints about offensive graffiti.
Park Advisory Commissioner Gwen Nystuen said The Rock is a nuisance to Ann Arbor residents as well as city officials. While The Rock is surrounded by fraternity houses, it also lies on the border of two Ann Arbor neighborhoods — Oxbridge and North Burns Park — home to Ann Arbor residents that for the most part are not affiliated with the University.
“The powers that be, the University, City, whatever, consider (The Rock) a lightning rod,” Nystuen said. “If people are going to throw paint around, let it be in one place and an attraction, which is fine if it isn’t next door to you.”
Nystuen, who lives in the Oxbridge neighborhood, said many of her non-fraternity neighbors are not happy with the noise, trash and sidewalk graffiti that accompany the painting of The Rock. She added that many residents consider the University icon to be an “eyesore.”
“I do think it’s gotten worse and worse and worse. It used to be someone would just paint it on game days. That time has passed, and now it’s pretty much a mess,” Nystuen said. “It was brought to the attention of parks (and recreation) a few years ago, and nothing happened. It’s hard to find people worried about it enough to take action.”