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School Board Says 'T-Bird Country' Bridge Panel Can go at North Entrance

  The Lakeland Union High School Board of Education has given tentative approval to locate the iconic “T-Bird Country” bridge panel at the north entrance of the high school off State Highway 70 West.

Meeting in special session Wednesday, the board voted 5-1 to green light the main entrance as recommended by its Finance Committee. Board president Tom Gabert voted against the site’s location.

“I think the presence of the panel on the school grounds is terrific,” said Gabert afterwards. “I still have remaining concerns about safety having been 17 myself, having three people at the May (school board) meeting recount stories when they put graffiti on the bridge. I think it’s a risk that we don’t have to take if we put it on the ground instead of up in the air.

“I can’t foresee the future, but this is only the way to get into the property from the north side. I wouldn’t put any cap over the top of it to make sure that we have unfretted access.”

Contingencies outlined

The citizen group “Friends of the T-Bird Bridge” is working to place the bridge panel at the school. With the north entrance selected, the group can start fundraising to refurbish the panel and place it at LUHS.

But the group has to meet a dozen contingencies before getting final board approval. One calls for the group to have full funding in hand before it can move forward with the project.

A potential stumbling block for the north entrance is just where the electrical, gas and other services are at that site.

“We don’t even know at this point whether the ground is sufficient to carry the load so there will have to be soil borings done,” cautioned board member Ed Schaub.

Board member Barry Seidel, who chairs Finance, said more contingencies could yet be placed on the proposal, including setting up an account for future panel maintenance. He always wants a final design showing the memorial to be of the “highest quality” before final board approval.

Seidel said the school administration team would incorporate the bridge panel memorial in the overall design of the outdoor facilities being developed by Stevens Point design firm Point of Beginning.

The board on an unanimous vote also directed its administration team to work with the citizen group in hammering out the agreement between it and the district.

Citizen’s concerns

From the audience, Bob Tupper voiced concerns about the panel being placed on pillars. “My first concern is vandals and the safety of vandals.” He said that could potentially open the district to lawsuits if someone fell while attempting to put his or her own graffiti on the structure.

“It’s a great idea incorporating the iconic bridge into the Lakeland district, into our history, but not like that,” Tupper added.

Several members of the “Friends” were at the meeting, with Minocqua businessman Bob Metropulos, Jr., saying the bottom of the panel would be 18 feet off the ground, making it difficult for vandals to reach. There would be no reason for anyone to letter it as the panel would already have “T-Bird Country” on it with an application of anti-graffiti clear coat for extra measure.

“If it rains, it’s gone,” he said of any future graffiti attempts. The front entrance site would reduce the number of people coming onto the campus to view it. “They would drive by, look at it and move on.”

The committee has recruited specialists in engineering and construction to ensure the bridge panel structure is properly designed and safely supported, Metropulos said.

Director of Business Services Gregg Kopp said the district’s insurance carrier has indicated the panel would increase the annual insurance premium “very, very minimal.”