Richland school board chairman to give own money for letter replacement

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 14, 2014 

Stadium Letters Remnants

A pile of concrete pieces, which used to make the letter "R", sit near the starting line of the track Friday at Fran Rish Stadium in Richland.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The chairman of the Richland School B oard apologized again at Tuesday night's board meeting for the removal of concrete letters representing Richland and Hanford high schools at Fran Rish Stadium.

Rick Jansons committed $500 of his own money toward installing replacements for the "R" and "H" and asked voters to not retaliate by rejecting an upcoming renewal of the district's maintenance and operations levy.

"You can't undo what's been done but you can try to make up for it," he said.

But his words didn't soothe everyone's feelings in the crowd of about 50 people.

"Today I can tell you that I probably won't vote on this (levy)," said one Richland High grad in the crowd. "You know how diehard Bomber fans are."

The district is investigating why the letters at Fran Rish, as well as a "C" that was behind Carmichael Middle School, were removed without prior notice to the board. Jansons said the board is committed to remedying the oversight and making sure it doesn't happen again.

While a few residents spoke of moving forward, others said they were still angry, that what happened was unacceptable and perhaps it's time for a change on the board.

"If you're that disconnected from my district, then you need to go," one resident told the board during the meeting.

Others wanted to know specifically who made the decision.

"Someone put in a work order," said Kristen Hunt, a Richland High graduate.

The "C" was removed more than a week ago. The "R" and the "H," set into the slope on either side of the visitor bleachers at Fran Rish, were removed on Thursday. The letters had been there for decades and were installed by students.

District officials initially said the letters that laid flat on a hillside were removed because they were a safety hazard, citing examples of children getting hurt playing on them. Planned safety improvements at the stadium, including possible removal of the slope because of its instability in a possible earthquake, was later given as another reason.

Jansons said board members learned of the letter removal from a story in Friday's Herald and did not know it was planned.

But students, alumni and others have piled criticism on the district since Friday, questioning why it was done without notifying residents. Hundreds of comments have been left on social media and district officials said they received numerous calls and emails.

"I watched the backhoe take the first crunch of the 'H' and I felt tears," said Kim Oates, a volunteer and Hanford High graduate, during the meeting.

A few people said while they were disappointed, it was time to move forward. Oates said it's now time to look at a larger overhaul of the stadium, which is in need of a lot of work. A former Richland High student leader has started a Facebook page about the letters and is meeting with Richland High students and administrators on a plan to replace the symbols.

"I think we could create something cool," said Colin Sanders, who graduated in 2007.

Jansons said he'd like any replacements for the letters, which could cost about $1,500 each, to come from non-district funds. His term as chairman ended later in the meeting, with Phyllis Strickler becoming the new chairwoman as part of the board's annual officer elections.

"You need to pay back your constituency," said Lloyd Becker to the board. He challenged Jansons in the November general election.

The district is moving forward with renovations to the visitor side of the stadium, and Superintendent Rick Schulte said any future "H" would possibly need to be moved.

There's also concern about heavy equipment damaging the letters if they are replaced before the improvements are done.

Schulte is expected to bring back information about the cost, possible donations and feedback from the community on replacing the letters. Most board members said they are more interested in the project being done right, rather than quickly.

"I don't want to put something in that will be in the way of construction," Strickler said.

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

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