Colgan student standing by mural they designed

Among the several Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) buildings that encompass the Independent Hill Complex (IHC) sits Building 52 – the hub of support services provided by the PWCS Facilities Department. From building repair and maintenance to pest control and snow removal, the building may not be the first that comes to mind for an art mural. However, that’s exactly what Nicole Barclay, a facilities records management specialist who works in the building, requested.

“I wanted a way to bring some color and positivity to all the hard work staff do for the facilities,” said Barclay. “Having a student create the art felt like the perfect way to remind us that we do our jobs for the amazing students of Prince William County.”

Barclay reached out to Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School, the school division’s fine and performing arts high school, for help. Brad Nance, a visual art teacher at the school, learned of the request and put together an art contest for students to submit designs for the mural. Each design was to incorporate the many different services and supports provided by the Facilities Department. Nance noted one design that stood out – that of Colgan High School junior Sofia Smirnova.

“I knew it was the perfect fit for Building 52,” said Nance.

Elizabeth Byrnes, Smirnova’s art teacher at Colgan, echoed the sentiment from Nance. “It’s an eye catcher and gives the viewer something to stop and truly investigate. The composition, color, and stylized representation shares a message of community, and captures the essence of how important each PWCS department is to all of us within the school division,” she said.

For Smirnova, the contest was a chance to gain valuable experience and competition credits needed for her master classes. “I wanted to challenge myself in creating a detailed artwork piece about subjects I do not draw often,” she said. “I mostly draw figures and portraits, so this was a brand-new experience for me,” she added.

Smirnova also said that the art piece allowed her to step outside of her artistic comfort zone and to push herself to use her strengths and weaknesses to create something that incorporated “wacky perspectives, tools, and structures.”

“Providing real-life opportunities for students to showcase their creativity is crucial. Not only does it give them a sense of accomplishment, but it also adds valuable content to their portfolio and resume,” said Nance.

“I hope the mural starts conversation between those who enter Building 52,” said Barclay. “I hope it is a reminder that we are all so important to the success of the students and I hope it makes people stop even for just a few seconds to be still and reflect on the amazing artwork.”  

Smirnova plans to attend art school after high school to continue expanding her artistic skills with the hope of becoming a freelance artist.

Mural that was designed for the Facilities Department Building
Facilities Department staff posing in front of the mural