When the City of Ventura commissioned Dennis Oppenheim to build the “Bus Home” public transit shelter in 2001, the acclaimed artist envisioned a work of steel that depicted a journey.

“‘Bus Home’ deals with the metamorphosis of one image into another,” Oppenheim said in a statement on the city’s Web site. “In a kind of animated freeze frame the house slowly becomes a bus. In this three-dimensional pictorial equivalent of a journey, the journey consists of a swirling loop, a spiral. This work should be magical and hard to contemplate, as is often the case when one thing turns into another.”But the city never imagined that Oppenheim’s work, located at the intersection of Mills and Telegraph roads, would undergo a transformation of its own that would leave city officials clashing with contractors and city residents scratching their heads.

As the first artist-designed facility in Ventura, the bus shelter was intended to serve the community in two ways: as a celebrated work of art and as a means to encourage the use of public transportation. In addition to Oppenheim’s spiral design, the shelter’s construction included benches, bathrooms, bike racks and drinking fountains.

Completed in 2002, the structure looms large and colorful at the north end of Pacific View Mall. The bus transfer center cost approximately $2.2 million, paid for with money received from federal and state transit funds, local match funds, air quality mitigation fees and public art funds.

But time hasn’t been kind to the structure. As it stands now, “Bus Home” appears to have morphed into a maintenance mishap. The paint on its 26-by-100-by-50 foot steel frame is bubbling and peeling, giving way to rust that creeps along the windows of the corkscrew-shaped bus. What was once a vibrant bus shelter now looks like a forgotten backdrop, a weathered work of art that’s still waiting to become the artistic destination it was meant to be.

Just who is at fault for the deterioration of the bus shelter has become a source of dispute between the city and the contractors it hired to build the facility.

The city filed a lawsuit Jan. 23 against Timothy J. Ferrie, the project’s contractor, and American Motorist Insurance Co. Ferrie and the insurance company countersued La Paloma Fine Arts, Inc. — the subcontractor on the project — in April. Then, in May, La Paloma filed its own complaint against Ferrie, the insurance company and the city. The next action in the litigation is scheduled for June 22.

“We have done a series of investigations, including an independent paint assessment which has indicated that the surface of the steel wasn’t prepped correctly,” said Cultural Affairs Manager Kerry Adams Hapner, the public official who oversaw construction and completion of Oppenheim’s design. “As a result it has caused some rust blooms underneath the surface of the paint and has caused the surface of the paint to chip.”

However, Ferrie argues that the coating failure was caused by the use of a paint unsuitable for Ventura’s marine conditions. But he had his hands tied by city requirements which put the power to decide design details into the hands of La Paloma and the artist himself, he said.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with the structure itself,” Ferrie said. “The problem is a whole lot of things. In the design, they should have used galvanized steel or aluminum. They could have chosen a different paint system for a marine environment. And the structure itself has been subjected to all kinds of things, kids scratching on it, writing their names and graffiti; it’s been hit by a bus. And it hasn’t been maintained whatsoever.”

But Adams Hapner said that as a public art project, the structure has been maintained under a conservation program which works with an independent conservator in order to preserve Ventura’s cultural legacy.

Denise Sindelar, Ventura’s public art supervisor, said the city is working to resolve the paint failure because it recognizes the importance of preserving its public art.

Remediation is scheduled for the fall, Sindelar said.

Meanwhile, people who see the structure on a daily basis, like Ventura resident Carl Comstock, are wondering what’s taking so long to remedy such an eyesore.

“It’s just rotting away and they paid $2 million,” Comstock said. “Somebody should be paying for the upkeep since they spent so much money on it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I guess it’s art. They call it art. I don’t understand it.”

Sally Ramos, owner of Allison’s Country Cafe which faces “Bus Home,” echoes Comstock’s sentiments. “I think it was a waste of money. I think they should have built something practical like a structure that people could stand under when it’s raining and not get wet,” Ramos said, then added, “You look at it and just kind of wonder ‘Why?’”