(Tuesday, June 9, 1992 Section: Local Page: 1B)

ROBIN WORTHINGTON, Mercury News Staff Writer

Sculptor Lori Kay affectionately calls her cast bronze dog Fido. Critics of the piece call it road kill. The jagged-edge sculpture of a dog with a front paw on a fire ladder has set off a small blaze of controversy since it was installed a few weeks ago on the front lawn at Fremont Fire Station No. 5 in Warm Springs. It's a taxpayer-financed piece -- and that makes every Fremont resident an art critic. Under the city's "Art in Public Places" policy, 1 percent of the construction costs of new public buildings is set aside for art. The sculpture cost about $11,000, including lighting and installation at the station at Hackamore Lane and Warm Springs Boulevard. ''We don't understand why money is being spent on art for the station in time of budget cuts," Capt. Scott Amsbaugh said. "The concept (of the dog) is all right. Everybody's got poetic license, some kind of latitude. The artist certainly took it." Kay is philosophical about artistic dialogue with the firefighters: "Whatever they say, it's valid. Some of them say they like the concept, but not the sculpture itself." ''Half of them like it, half of them hate it," she said with a sigh Monday. "People aren't used to seeing a shell (of a figure). They expect bronze to be solid." Firefighter Dan Viscarra put it another way: "They should have left it as a nice warm dog going up a ladder. They shouldn't have blown it up." To Kay, the dog's peeled-back edges and hollow center evoke openness and flight. Titled "Flight IV," the fire station piece is one of a "Flight" series by the Burlingame sculptor. It's the first public commission for Kay, 30, who has been casting bronze 11 years and has shown extensively in Northern California and New York. The artist was chosen two years ago by the city's art review board, then approved by the city council. At the time, artists were chosen to create works for three new fire stations. ''We wanted something unique for each station -- something related to firefighting," said Paula Artac, who was board chairwoman at the time. "Hers had a traditional element but was handled in a contemporary way." Kay is working this week to finish a smaller indoor wall piece, "Flight V," at the same fire station. In cast stone, it follows the same theme of fire dog and ladder and will cost $3,000. Since 1987, the city has bought art for nine sites for $160,130. "Phoenix," a stainless steel sculpture by artist James T. Russell, will be installed at Fire Station No. 9 on Stevenson Place near the city softball fields by early July. The cost is $15,000. Other fire station art includes the $11,000 "Drought Fountain" by Robert Feldman at Station No. 10 on Deep Creek Road and the $12,000 "Firefighters" (sometimes called "Casper the Friendly Ghost" for its off-white finish) at Station No. 4, Pine Street and Paseo Padre Parkway.