Rubble Trouble: Removal of school letters sparks outrage in Tri-Cities

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 10, 2014 

A story in the Herald about the Richland School District's removal of concrete letters at Carmichael Hill and Fran Rish Stadium sparked a storm of online criticism Friday.

Hundreds of comments left on the Herald's website and on social media criticized the district for not being upfront about the letters' removal and the rationale for the decision.

One Hanford High School parent, Lou Meigs, said her daughter is "rather bothered by the removal" of the school's concrete "H."

"(She) greeted me at my bedroom door this morning quite angrily, shaking the paper in my face, demanding to know if I had any knowledge about it and why it wasn't stopped," Meigs told the Herald in an email.

District officials have said the large letters representing Hanford and Richland high schools at the stadium, as well as the "C" on the hill behind nearby Carmichael Middle School, were safety hazards.

"We've had a kid break his arm," said Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley.

The letters had to be taken out as part of other improvements at the stadium, contrary to what the Herald was told Thursday, Baddley said. The district plans to work with student leaders and individual school administrations about putting new symbols for the schools in place once work is complete.

Some of the online commenters said they had seen kids and others get hurt.

"Sad to see them go but I do know of several people who got hurt on those because we were all young and dumb once," Jinee Melland said on Facebook.

The "R" was the oldest of the letters. It was poured by student leaders in 1967 as part of a school project, said Lee Bush of West Richland, who graduated in 1968.

The school was officially named Columbia High at the time, but was commonly referred to as Richland High by students and others, thus the choice of an "R" to symbolize the school, Bush said. The "C" and "H" were placed sometime in the late '70s to early '80s.

"I wish they would replace them," Bush said of the letters. "I'm sad to see them go."

Part of a $98 million bond approved by voters last year is going toward safety improvements on the visitor side of the stadium, where the letters were displayed on the hillside.

New bleachers and renovated bathrooms are part of those plans, but district officials have said seismic studies show the infill the bleachers and the letters are built into could liquefy if there is an earthquake. That information further fed the reasoning to remove the letters, Baddley said.

"There's a debate on how much fill has to be removed," he said.

It's too early to say whether new concrete letters will be permitted as replacements should the students suggest them, Baddley said.

"I'm going to let the (student leaders) work with their administration on what that will look like," he said.

Some other changes at the stadium aren't the district's decision. The Bonneville Power Administration removed some shrubs along the perimeter of the stadium because the plants were in the agency's easement, said Mark Panther, the district's executive director of support services.

The district received a lot of phone calls from people upset about the removal. People also commented on the district's Facebook page, but the district did not respond to them with a comment or post.

Many angry commenters wondered why the removal wasn't brought up at a Richland School Board meeting or communicated to district residents beforehand. Several said the claim that the letters posed a safety hazard was an overreaction to an increasingly litigious society.

"Give me a break. They might as well remove all trees and light poles because the kids could walk into one of them. Demonstrated bureaucratic insanity," John Masulonis of Kennewick said on Facebook.

Some asked why the district didn't take advantage of the situation as a possible fundraiser, giving away pieces of the letters in exchange for a donation. Baddley said that wasn't considered, especially because the concrete wasn't stable.

"It was pitted and broken up," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402, tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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