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UB STUDENT-DESIGNED ART SPRUCES UP ALLENTOWN

You have to look closely, in some of the most unlikely places, to see them -- beneath your feet, in a tiny wedge of space between two storefronts, on the slender poles that anchor parking meters to the sidewalk. But once you find them, organizers of a series of functional art projects in Allentown ask that you stop for a moment and take a look.

The seven projects, a joint venture of the Allentown Association and a group of architecture students at the University at Buffalo, were constructed to spruce up existing structures, correct damages with a unique flair and shed new light on Allentown's oft-neglected treasures.

"I really like how it's a combination of subtle things that you'd hardly even notice, and big, in-your-face things," said Elizabeth Licata, an Allentown resident who helped organize fund-raising events for the project.

You might not even notice the spartan lettering on Allen Street parking meters, spelling out words such as "rediscover," "reclassify" and "reconceive," and commemorating 1901's Pan-American Exposition in hopes of recapturing some of the era's spirit.

A garden structure at Main and Allen streets -- the "gateway to Allentown" -- is one of the project's largest undertakings. The graceful web of metal anchors another recent community project -- a garden planted in a former vacant lot.

Organizers hope to top the shelter with steel and lay flagstones around the base by midsummer.

Some items in the project, such as bicycle racks bearing the circle-A Allentown Association logo, emphasize function as much as form, and will be duplicated and placed throughout the area.

Other projects, however, leave a bit more to the eye of the beholder.

Perched on a curb across from the Spirits of Allentown liquor store, a 6-by-1-foot granite rectangle frames Days Park, the historic green sliver that slices through the neighborhood's residential area. The stone slab will be outfitted with handrails and a bronze casting through which visitors can have an unobstructed view of Days Park.

Licata said the Days Park "viewer" radiates a message to passers-by. "It says: 'Stop, look where you are. Don't just walk by,' " she said. " 'Look at the uniqueness of where you are.' "

The project would have exceeded $50,000, but donations from area construction and building materials companies and residents cut the cost to $7,000. Businesses also donated time and manpower, and professional welders and ironworkers were brought in to help implement the students' designs. Additional funds for unfinished projects such as a mahogany windmill near South Elmwood Avenue and Virginia Street may be on the way, via the city's community beautification block grants.

"It was truly a community effort," said Nancy Nardin, an Allentown resident who coordinated corporate donations and served as a contractor for the project. "Everything came together, surprisingly, quite nicely."

Because it was developed in conjunction with a UB class, the project had a strict, academic-calendar-imposed deadline -- May 1. Niagara Council Member Dominic Bonifacio Jr. seized what he called "a short window of opportunity" to roll the project through city permit offices, the city's preservation board and the mayor's office.

In just 30 days, all necessary permits had been obtained, Bonifacio said.

He praised UB instructor Brad Wales and his team of 11 students for their dedication, despite snags that cropped up along the way, including a tangle over property rights between the city and the Buffalo Board of Education, where the windmill will be constructed.

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