Sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot.
Richland School District officials found that out quickly when a contractor removed the large “H” and “R” that had long stood at Fran Rish Stadium.
The letters along with a large “C” on nearby Carmichael hill were torn out as part of scheduled improvements to the stadium.
But someone sure didn’t think through how much those letters meant to many alumni and community members. The reasons were many: a source of pride, a symbol of school spirit, a friendly rivalry, the fact that one of the letters was a gift from a graduating class.
Their response was fast and fierce, with those concerned chastising the administration and school board at meetings, in emails and over the phone. Some of the most passionate critics called for school district employees involved in removing the letters be disciplined or fired. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and although steps were taken to improve communication within the district and with the people, nobody was disciplined.
While district officials said the letters had to be removed for construction of new bleachers, and because they were a safety hazard, the public was not convinced.
A little forethought by the district with a way to salvage the letters, use the bits for a fundraiser or at least have a demolition ceremony to mark their significance, would have saved a lot of headache and heartache on both sides of the controversy.
This fall, football fans will see a new incarnation of the yellow “R” and purple “H” at an improved Fran Rish Stadium. Better bathrooms and a concession stand, along with new bleachers, also grace the visitor’s side of the field.
The work was part of a bond approved in 2013 to improve accessibility and safety at the facility, as well as better accommodations for coaches and the media.
To remedy the situation of the demolished letters, a committee of mostly high school students was formed to give the district advice. The students wisely asked just to have what had been taken away restored.
The new letters will be made of stamped concrete and flank the bleachers on the hillside. The roughness of the stamped concrete will make them less appealing for small children to use them as a slide, in hopes of reducing some of the risk for the district.
The school district has reason to be wary as it faces a $10 million lawsuit over a sledding accident on Carmichael Hill on school property.
The new letters don’t replace the history and the decades that the others stood proud in Richland, but at least the district listened and responded. It was too late to salvage the originals, but the updated versions keep the spirit and tradition alive and reduced district liability at the same time.