Plans in works to replace concrete letters in Richland

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One of the concrete letters representing three Richland schools could soon be replaced, but it will be at least a year before the others return permanently.

School district officials and staff at Carmichael Middle School plan to replace the "C" this school year, though it may be in a different location and have new safety features, Superintendent Rick Schulte told the Richland School Board on Tuesday.

The "R" and the "H" representing Richland and Hanford high schools at Fran Rish Stadium, however, will have to wait until safety improvements are made to the visitor bleachers. That work won't be done until next winter, Schulte said. Temporary solutions are being considered.

The district is adjusting its policies and administrators involved in the controversial decision to remove the letters are being retrained as district procedures weren't followed, Schulte said.

But there is no guarantee that even with those changes that a similar incident won't happen in the future.

"Unless the board wants a policy that says, 'Leave the letters alone,' and maybe we do, it doesn't seem to be the kind of incident that is easily corrected by policy," Schulte said.

The letters, which were installed by students decades ago, were removed in early January. District officials said the letters were removed because of safety concerns and as part of the improvements at Fran Rish, which will require removing six to eight feet of soil from the slope the "R" and the "H" were set into.

The removal of the letters spawned a firestorm of angry comments and numerous phone calls, letters and emails to district officials.

Schulte investigated how the letters were removed and found that discussions among seven high school and district officials led to the decision. He told the board no district policies were violated and there was no misconduct, though the administrators failed to follow proper procedures.

"If there's fault to be laid, I lay it on the fact that there wasn't a written work order," he said.

The district is looking at putting the "C," previously on the hill behind Carmichael, in a different location to make it less of a hazard, Schulte said. It also could be covered with a non-slip material, such as an epoxy paint or rubberized covering.

Schulte and board Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler met with representatives connected to the high schools Monday to discuss replacing their letters. While permanent letters will have to wait, possible temporary solutions include a foam material that could fill the still-present holes where the letters were or a plywood structure.

Most, though, were more concerned about developing a long-term plan to fully overhaul the stadium.

"It was a positive discussion but it was just the beginning," Schulte said.

Whether a structure or feature on school grounds is a class gift or has significant value to the community could be a criteria district staff consider when reviewing projects, said board member Rick Jansons.

Part of the issue with that, Schulte said, is that the district doesn't have firm records on every memorial or similar gift made to the district's schools. Many of them, such as trees and benches, lack identifying plaques, have been in place for decades and the people who put them in are long gone from the district.

"We are, automatically now, actively looking at connections to things on school grounds," Schulte said.

Even if a work order was produced to carry out the removal, Schulte said it wouldn't necessarily have prevented it from happening. It would only have provided a clearer idea of who ordered the work be done.

Kenneth Dame, whose Richland High 1968 graduating class installed the "R" at Fran Rish, told the board he wants the letters to go back as they were. He also wanted to know why the letters came out now, despite the work at the stadium being delayed a year.

"The 'Why now?' I don't have an answer to that," Schulte said.

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