Our Voice: Alumni should channel school pride revealed in concrete letter brouhaha

January 16, 2014 

The Richland School District made a mess for itself when it removed letters representing the local high schools that had long been displayed at Fran Rish Stadium.

It baffles us that district officials didn't think the community would react to the surprise demolition of the landmarks.

While some may call the controversy silly, many others will understand the allegiance some Tri-City natives have to their high schools, even decades after their school days ended.

An enduring connection to the schools is carried by many alumni, and the humble concrete letters installed by previous generations of students were a highly visible symbol of that loyalty.

The district woefully underestimated the response the demolition would bring. In fact, it's still unclear whether that was even a consideration. It has been bombarded with calls, emails and online comments decrying the destruction.

Differing reasons have been given by the district in recent days as to why the letters were removed. And as yet it has not been made public just who gave the orders to remove the "R," and "H" and the "C" that stood behind Carmichael Middle School for decades.

The school board is now saying it did not know the letters were being removed and found out about it through the media after the fact, just as many others did.

The district started out defending the demolition as a safety measure, saying many children had been hurt playing on the letters embedded in a grass-covered slope over the years, though there wasn't much documentation cited to support that. Then the story became that the slope itself was the issue, and might someday be removed. Again, not definitive.

Richland school officials seem to be making a habit of discounting public opinion in their decision-making, and this is just the latest example.

The district missed a real opportunity to garner public favor in this case. Had it handled the situation differently, the results would have been entirely different.

The prudent move would have been to explain the need for the removal of the letters and seek public input for a replacement or relocation of the beloved symbols.

The district could have surely found some eager alumni to come up with a solution that served the wants of the Bomber and Falcon communities. And they likely could have gotten the alumni to donate the money to pay for such a project. One enterprising idea presented by a citizen would have been to sell pieces of the aging and deteriorating letters to alumni. The money could have paid for construction of a new and safer community-endorsed tribute to the high schools.

We're still waiting for the full story of the how and why the demolition came to be. But no explanation can make them magically reappear.

What's done is done, and we hope the district has learned some valuable lessons.

Now it's time to move forward. School board member Rick Jansons has pledged $500 of his own money toward a replacement project. Former student leaders are meeting with district officials to come up with concepts for a new display. That's all positive.

The threats that some have made to use the debacle as a reason not to support the upcoming vote on renewal of the district's maintenance and operations levy is ludicrous.

Pride in your school should be a reason to support a levy, not derail it. Don't punish this generation of students for the boneheaded maneuvers of some district officials. True commitment is measured in action, not in fondness for a set of concrete letters.

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