Panel raises concerns over safety of light poles at Dallas-Fort Worth parks, stadiums


by By MATTHEW HAAG and JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on September 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 5:51 PM

At least two dozen North Texas schools and city parks have stadium light poles manufactured by a company whose structures have cracked and fallen in recent months.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Friday released the addresses of the Dallas-Forth Worth area locations where poles sold by the defunct Fort Worth-based Whitco Co. LP were installed. The Dallas Morning News matched the addresses to at least a dozen area school stadiums and several popular city parks, including Fretz Park in Far North Dallas.

Most cities and schools on the list contacted Friday said they knew they had Whitco poles, had already inspected them and found them to be safe. But some officials said they would immediately inspect their poles.

"Now that we are on the list, we'll double-check," said Corky Brown, Cedar Hill spokesman.

Cedar Hill inspected the Whitco poles at the city's six-acre Dot Thomas Park several months ago and found no structural damage. But the city decided Friday to send engineers back to the park in southeast Cedar Hill, which has two baseball fields.

Maintenance workers in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district inspected the poles at Ranchview High School months ago without knowing they were sold by Whitco. After learning Friday that the school's poles were from the company, officials decided to inspect them again.

"That's the safest thing to do," said Angela Shelley, spokeswoman for C-FB ISD.

The federal safety commission, which is investigating Whitco's poles, compiled a list of Whitco pole locations and said it then alerted cities, schools and businesses in late August to immediately inspect them. But none of the local city or school officials contacted Friday said they had received a letter or any alert from the commission.

Agency inspectors have confirmed nine incidents of fallen Whitco poles installed between 2000 and 2006, including two poles that collapsed on consecutive days in April in the Sanger Independent School District in Denton County. Whitco poles haven't injured anyone, but several fell last spring at North Texas school districts, and another slammed into a school gym outside Austin.

Some districts, including Carroll, Garland and Lewisville, removed poles from their football stadiums before summer.

The latest collapse happened Thursday afternoon when a Whitco pole slammed into a high school football stadium's bleachers in Norfolk, Va. School officials there said they didn't receive the commission's warning until the night before the collapse.

The News also matched addresses that the safety commission provided to Brookhaven College, Red Oak High School's Billy Goodloe Stadium and Cummings Park in east Oak Cliff.

Officials at Brookhaven and the city of Dallas said they wouldn't know until next week whether poles at those locations had been inspected. A Red Oak ISD spokeswoman said the district's poles were inspected recently and were fine.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD officials plan to have stadium poles checked at all schools as a precaution, said Darren Clark, the assistant director of facility services and construction. Addresses for Colleyville Middle School and Grapevine High School were included on the safety commission's list.

"At this time we aren't concerned that our poles are that brand," Clark said. "But pretty much everyone is checking light poles statewide.";