Timothy Meier (12) practicing his pole vaulting technique on the damaged mats. Although the FHS pole vaulters are left with no choice but to practice on the torn up mats, it is unclear whether the team will be able to host competitions on them as the season progresses. Photo by Delaney Griffin.

When Franklin was remodeled last year, the FHS Athletic Department received all new athletic facilities and equipment to accompany the new building. Among other things, this meant new treadmills and stationary bikes for P.E. classes and injury recovery, new weights for the weight room, and new mats for pole vaulters and high jumpers to land on during track and field season. However, in the 2018 fall season, it was discovered that these brand new pole vault mats and, to a lesser extent, the high jump mats had been badly vandalized; they were defaced with writing and drawings, and the tops where the jumpers land were shredded and gouged.

These mats had only been in the possession of the Franklin Athletic Department since the spring of 2018, and they cost nearly $40,000 when they were first purchased. The mats were being stored under the bleachers in the back of the school, a place where members of the Athletic Department felt they were unsafe. “I knew [storage] was inadequate and, true to form, [the mats] were damaged,” said James Hennessy, the longtime head coach for Franklin Track and Field and Cross Country. “People defaced and gouged the tops of the mats and they brought in food, which drew rats that chewed up [the underside of] the mats.”

Storing the expensive mats under the bleachers was not the Athletic Department’s ideal situation. During the remodel, they requested conex boxes—large storage units—to keep on campus and store expensive equipment in; these were something they had before the remodel. Hennessy said that he was originally told they were going to receive new conex boxes, but there was insufficient money to buy them, at around $3,000 to $4,000 each. Without conex boxes to keep the mats dry and safe, the next best option the Athletic Department had was to store the mats under the bleachers, protected only by a short fence.

During the summer of 2018, FHS sports teams that were practicing for the fall season would notice people trespassing in the storage space under the bleachers, presumably having climbed over or squeezed under the fence. “Coaches and custodians would come in and shoo people out of there who were sneaking in and hanging out,” said Franklin Athletic Director Scott Santangelo. When investigated, the Athletic Department found several spaces in the fence where people may have been gaining entry to the equipment. “There were three spaces [under the bleachers] that we alerted security and the district facilities to that needed to be shored up,” said Santangelo. However, by the time the entry points were noticed, the mats had already been vandalized. According to Santangelo, PPS will not have risk management pay to replace or repair the damaged mats until the storage space under the bleachers is fully secured and out of reach of the public. The school district has also stated that Franklin is required to supply at least two conex boxes to store the mats in at the end of the school year, which could cost up to $8,000. According to Santangelo, it is still unclear whether the school or the Athletic Department will be paying to purchase the storage containers.

The Athletic Department was told they could expect to receive new mats by April 10, provided that the storage space under the bleachers is secured in the next few weeks. However, Hennessy is skeptical that the district will meet that deadline. “Everything is moving so slowly now,” he said, “and it took so long to get [the new mats] in place last year,” meaning that it may take a long time before the Athletic Department is able to get replacement mats or receive repairs on the damaged ones. To emphasize how long it sometimes takes to get new equipment, Hennessy pointed out that the FHS baseball and softball teams are still waiting to receive new netting for their field, something they were told would happen over a year ago. However, if the mats for the pole vault are not replaced soon, they may be unsafe for competitions. “There are some places where [the vandals] gouged out the rubber where a lot of people will be landing, which could definitely cause some injury,” said Hennessy. Franklin is expected to host their home track meet on April 10, the day the new mats are supposed to arrive, and is also expected to host the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) Track and Field District Championships on May 15 and 17. If the mats are not replaced by April 10, Franklin can still host all running and most field events, but will most likely be unable to host the pole vault competitions. If this is true, they will have to rely on another school in PIL to host the pole vault. This would mean missing out on an opportunity to showcase the newest athletic facilities in the district and having to pay to transport athletes and their equipment to another campus. While everyone is hoping the mats will arrive by the anticipated date, it is unclear whether we can truly trust this timeline.