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ISU officials deem Red Hill “I” unsafe

Idaho State University officials are keeping a closer eye on Pocatello’s iconic “I”.

That is, the century-old piece of history sitting on the top of Red Hill.

ISU Vice President for Advancement Kent Tingey said the erosion under the symbol has been posing as a safety threat for years, saying it is only a matter of time before it falls off the hill onto anyone heading-up the Red Hill trail, which is now blocked-off.

“For some time people have said, ‘You better take a look at this,'” Tingey said. “What we want to do is to preserve the history of Idaho State University, while at the same time, make sure there are no safety concerns.”

This summer, Facility Services and ISU College of Science and Engineering’s James Mahar analyzed the structure and deemed it to be unsafe, given the eroding land supporting the stability of the “I” at a rapidly-diminishing pace.

Associate Vice President of Facility Services Phil Moessner said the only support system still holding that “I” in place is primarily gravity. The rest, is just a couple cable wires which are now fully exposed.

“Those seem to be doing their job for the moment but we are not sure how strong those are, what kind of shape those are in, or when exactly those were put in,” Moessner said.

He pulled three photos of the “I” from his office files – all three were taken during different time periods of the icon’s existence.

The first photo dates back to 1937, approximately 15-years after the “I” was initially built, according to Moessner.

At that time, the “I” was just a mere outline of the letter, sitting firmly on the side of the hill.

The next photo showed the “I” during the year 2000, showing the beginning stages of the erosion. The final photo was taken this summer, showing the rapid pace of erosion underneath the letter.

Tingey said he has already received hundreds of suggestions from members throughout the community who have grown-up seeing that “I” as part of their community, and who all want to have a say in the destiny of the icon.

“Hundreds of people put together suggestions what to do with it and they range from doing nothing to destroying it,” Tingey said. “But what we have to do is get all the facts and the science about what it says about the ‘I'”.

Tingey said he has already started assembling a committee made up of: faculty members, students, alumni, and members of the community. He said after the final assessment of the “I” is done by another engineering firm based in Boise, the committee will draft a series of recommendations for ISU President Arthur Vailas as to what should be done with the symbol.

We placed a call to the Alumni Association on Monday afternoon, but representatives who could speak to the media were said to have been out of town.

Moessner said with the rate of erosion increasing, the main goal is to find a way to stabilize the “I” by possibly building-up the land from underneath it. Other suggestions include pulling the “I” down altogether and selling pieces of it to ISU alumni. Some people have even suggested replacing it with the new ISU logo with the intertwining letters. Others have voiced their concern, hoping the landmark will not be touched at all.

Moessner said the current “I” is made mostly out of chicken wire, cement and wood. He said this has been re-painted and built-up every year.

He also said, when the “I” was first placed on Red Hill in the 1920s, the city of Pocatello knocked-out a huge chunk of land right under the symbol in order to use that dirt for various other street projects. He said it is not certain as to whether or not that sparked the erosion.

Tingey said the university will be taking public input when the committee convenes this fall.

But unlike the land under that iconic “I”, this issue will not be eroding away anytime soon.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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