Few flakes have fallen thus far, but seven City plows are especially well prepared to give the slip to snow, thanks to the Evanston elementary, middle and home-schooled students who participated in the third annual Paint Evanston’s Plows contest.

Suzette Eggleston, superintendent of Streets and Sanitation for Evanston, brought the idea for the contest from Indianapolis, her former employer. Not only is the plow project fun for the participants, but it also advances the City agenda in several areas.

“I wanted to bring awareness of winter’s coming, so people start thinking of the rules [for parking after snowfall, etc.],” says Ms. Eggleston. She says she is also “promoting environmental initiatives” by using this year’s City Water Department slogan, “Tap Water: Good for You, Good for the Environment,” as the contest theme.

Finally, painting the plows actually makes them more slippery, says Ms. Eggleston – a kind of Teflon effect that helps them shed snow. The City sends out all of its 30-some snowplow blades to be painted every year, she says. Despite the cost for providing the school children with paint kits for the competition, the City saves money on labor.

Word of the contest went out to the schools in September. While Ms. Eggleston budgeted for ten plow blades (the number of entries last year), just seven school groups responded this fall. The finished products were lined up on the Civic Center lawn until Nov. 7 while students worked to get out the vote, urging parents and other interested community members to telephone or e-mail their choice of a winner.

City crews delivered the blades, along with kits containing paints in black, white and primary colors, to Chute, home schoolers, Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Oakton, Orrington and St. Athanasius schools in early October.

Instructions encouraged the classes to “show school spirit, City spirit, holiday spirit or winter spirit in conjunction with the [tap water] theme.”

All the entries incorporated more than one idea.

At Orrington School, new art teacher Brooke McDermott decided to engage the whole fourth grade in the project. They began by “doing research on water bottles and tap water,” she says, discovering the detrimental effects of water bottles and the virtues of tap water, as well as “how lucky we are, compared with other countries,” to have safe and good-tasting drinking water.

She compiled three of the students’ drawings for Orrington’s final design, a winter scene as busy as a Breughel painting. A fireman aims his water hose at a burning house filled with people glimpsed through windows using water in a variety of ways, children ice skate and penguins frolic.

At Oakton, reading teacher Jerry Succes and substitute art teacher Gail Enkey spearheaded the project Mr. Succes calls “100 percent student-done.” He asked fourth- and fifth-grade teachers to choose two students from each class who were interested in art and followed classroom rules. In their mural, “We Love Evanston Water,” water gushes from a huge tap into glasses held by outstretched hands, and seasonal figures – Santas and snowmen – stand amid water sources like rain clouds, snowflakes and a river.

St. A’s students encapsulated their four-pronged message in large water drops. A sailboat navigates the bright blue lake waters beyond a familiar Evanston lighthouse; an athlete sporting her St. A’s shirt holds ball and re-usable water bottle; the “forbidden” line is drawn through the circle around a plastic water bottle; and children build a snowman.

The Homeschoolers are new to the contest, says Ms. Eggleston. In their entry, inanimate entities talk. A “Home Sweet School” bubble floats above a smiling house. Another house has a frowning face labeled “CO2” over its roof. And an evil-looking plastic water bottle punches a tree that says “Ouch!”

Chute students traced the water cycle: In the center a girl with an umbrella urges viewers to “Tap into tap water,” while to one side, the arrows of the familiar recycling logo morph into a tap pouring water onto a globe and on the other, water flows from a tap.

Rolling down a snow-laden street, the Kingsley plow might well be mistaken for a tsunami. Reminiscent of Hokusai’s painting “The Great Wave,” it is titled “Wave Goodbye to Bottles: Turn on to Tap Water.” Here the foam on a huge curl of water becomes a tap that is filling a row of glasses. They teeter in the rough water, while in the background, snow falls on a white-capped mountain.

Even winter-haters are likely to be charmed by Lincolnwood’s plow, where a chorus line of cartoon-faced water droplets kick their heels up on a red-curtained stage.

Winners in three categories – Best Theme (chosen by City employees), Evanston Choice (voted by citizens) and Mayor’s Choice – will be announced in the City’s upcoming Highlights newsletter, says Ms. Eggleston. In early December the City will host a reception for the winners, complete with refreshments and plaques for the winning schools.

While the awards will last, the artwork will fade with the snow. Although the City adds a durable clear coat to the acrylic designs, Ms. Eggleston says only two survived last year’s harsh weather.

So next fall her department will give the plows another coat of white primer, providing large, clean slates for another group of budding muralists.