Stadium poles recalled
Agency halts use of light towers similar to ones that have fallen at schools across the country
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Tuesday announced a nationwide recall of stadium lighting poles manufactured by Whitco Co. LLP, the Fort Worth company that designed and sold about a dozen of the giant towers that have crashed without warning during the past three years.
Most of the accidents occurred at public schools in Texas; two, in Hays County and in Round Rock, were in Central Texas.
The federal agency’s recall follows the American-Statesman’s reporting last year linking the now-bankrupt Whitco to defective poles across the country. In addition to the poles that have toppled, nearly 100 more were found to have developed potentially dangerous cracks at their bases, most only a few years after their installation.
No one has been hurt because of the faulty
towers, although there have been several close calls. In March 2009, when a 125-foot pole at the Hays school district’s Bob Shelton Stadium toppled and slammed onto a high school gymnasium, about 60 people were in the stadium, waiting to watch a soccer game.
The Whitco pole that fell a month later at a playing field in Uniontown, Pa., crushed bleachers and crashed across a field that, if it were not for bad weather, would have been bustling with schoolchildren.
The product safety commission’s announcement follows a warning it issued in August, recommending that owners of stadiums with Whitco poles should have them checked for cracks. Tuesday’s recall, for poles 70 feet and taller made by Whitco, states that “consumers should immediately stop using recalled products until they are inspected and repaired.”
“The poles can fracture or crack and fall over, posing a risk of serious injury or death to patrons and bystanders from being hit or crushed.”
In a news release, the agency estimated that the recall would involve more than 2,500 poles. Many Texas school districts have already checked their athletic field light towers and, where necessary, removed or added support to their Whitco poles.
Most of the poles that have fallen or cracked were sold by Whitco between 2000 and 2006, when the company declared bankruptcy. Engineers said normally the huge towers should last several decades before needing to be replaced.
Started as a family business in 1969, Whitco was sold in 2000 to a group of out-of-state investors who tried to increase sales dramatically, former workers said.
Whitco’s poles have toppled in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota. A few fell at minor league baseball stadiums.
But many of the defective structures were along playing fields at Texas high schools. In March 2009, after the Hays County accident, the Texas Association of School Business Officials sent an e-newsletter to 5,000 members warning them of the hazard.
The warning didn’t spread everywhere. The last reported Whitco pole to fall toppled just over three months ago. On March 29, a 75-foot stadium light pole at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, a town in Denton County, collapsed on a soccer field. The school eventually replaced three other Whitco poles after cracks were discovered in them.
Because Whitco is defunct, the school districts and other stadium owners have had to bear the cost of replacing and repairing the 1-to 4-ton towers themselves.
Hays County spent nearly $700,000 replacing its light poles and repairing damage from the fallen tower. The Carroll school district in Southlake, outside of Dallas, spent nearly $300,000 inspecting and replacing its four Whitco poles.
Forensic reports delving into the cause of the poles’ failures have reached different conclusions. Several have cited rapid vibrations caused by winds, and others have blamed design or welding flaws.