A larger-than-life bronze statue depicting Higley High School’s mascot of a knight in full armor is on its way to the campus after it was almost detoured.
Higley Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-2 to accept the statue despite stiff opposition from its president and vice president, who both said U-Knighted Kingdom Booster Club didn’t give much detail or get permission before embarking on its project.
“My concern is that if I want to give you a gift, I can’t just put it in your yard, a 10, 11-foot something in your front yard because it’s a gift,” said Vice President Kristina Reese. “My concern is that this was done without the approval for fundraising on campus, without conversation of details and without working with site administration.”
Reese said she was told by the district in March that staff would stop U-Knighted Kingdom’s process and deny the statue but then COVID-19 hit and further conversation pointed to the need for the board to get involved.
“I do like the thought of a statue,” Reese said. “I do think that that can bring value. This thing is very large. It does present difficulties to the campus as well as to the district as it was not done in conjunction with site administration.”
She added that she’s heard conflicting information from the club about the statue – such as its funding source and a claim the statue has been talked about for years with the student council.
However, Reese said she’s spoken with Higley students who graduated in 2019 and there was never any talk at that time about it.
Reese also acknowledged the importance of booster clubs and PTOs but said they needed to work with site administrators.
A facility project modification request by the booster club dated Feb. 10 and approved by Higley Principal Alan Fields on Feb. 20 gives a brief description of the statue.
The club aimed to raise the roughly $100,000 for the statue through donor bricks ranging from $125 to $500 and through corporate sponsorships priced from $2,000 to $10,000.
Corporate sponsors would get their names engraved on the statue pedestal and year-long family season sports passes.
Board President Amy Kaylor said the details of the proposed 12-foot statue, which includes a 2-foot base, didn’t become public until a Feb. 25 community meeting.
She said there was an email that went out about the statue in September but no formal paperwork talking about fundraising, the size, scope or cost.
She added that the club’s president had said in a meeting that the donation bricks were being sold at football games before getting permission for the fundraising effort.
Kaylor said the process was a bit backwards for her because the club started fundraising before it even discussed with school administrator where to locate the statue.
Kaylor said she saw a formal flier soliciting donations go out on Higley’s campus in January, which piqued her interest because of the large dollar amount being sought.
She said a Feb. 10 meeting that included herself, Reese, the superintendent and booster club members revolved around the origins of the statue effort but that there was no formal paperwork showing permission from the district or school administration for the statue or for the sale of the bricks.
The club is proposing the statue be placed in the school courtyard.
Superintendent Mike Thomason said the courtyard was not appropriate for the statue because the concrete there would need to be broken up, an engineer would have to be called in and proper footings installed at a cost to the booster club.
He added that he became aware of the statue’s cost, size and scope early this year.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of teachers on the campus, a lot of students on the campus and there seems to be a lot of negativity of having this on their campus,” Kaylor said.
“They don’t think it’s bringing any value,” she continued. “I’ve talked to many of the staff who are not in support of this statue. They didn’t feel they were included in any of the conversation as to what spirit means to a school.”
Kaylor also said donors initially gave money for something that lacked detail.
“I think donors need to know exactly what they are getting and what’s happening,” Kaylor said. “I do believe money was given to something that they didn’t even know the exact details and I don’t think that’s fair to a donor. I think donors should know exactly what they are donating to.”
Kaylor said she was afraid of setting a precedent by allowing the statue when the club failed to follow any procedures. Reese noted that this would allow for any donation to be brought on a campus without permission.
Board member Jill Wilson said as a former PTO president, who read everything that the district gave her and that there is no paperwork for giving a gift.
She said she’s given gifts, such as radios for safety, to the district and there was no paperwork involved.
If the district is going to say no to a gift, it needs to have a process in place, Wilson said.
“This is kind of out of our league,” board member Greg Wojtovich said. “I’ve been on this board for six years. I don’t understand why other board members are being involved in this statue decision.
“I don’t see board members sitting in committees to approve playground equipment for the schools. I’m not here to worry about this and that and statues. This is not for us to be involved in.”
Wojtovich also said he wasn’t involved in any of the discussions that Kaylor and Reese took part in.
He said board members instead should be directing their questions and concerns to the superintendent and to the school administration.
He also thanked booster club President Allison Day for the incredible amount of work she’s done to bring the statue to the high school and for making a difference in the district.
“I wished we had more people like her,” he said. “We need to move on and approve it. When someone gives you a gift, you say ‘thank you very much’ and you move on.”
Wojtovich also said he’s received lots of emails on the statue and 98 percent were in favor of it.
Board member Scott Glover said he sided with Wojtovich and Wilson, calling the project a safe one and noting that the booster club plans to pay for any ongoing costs associated with it.
“I’m not spending any Higley Unified tax money on it,” Glover said. “That’s what shapes my vote.”
Glover added the district has lax processes and that it was bad practice to pick and choose. He said there’s a need to dig deeper and fix the system.
That said, he added, “2020 is the year statues are tearing apart communities.”
Without naming names, he said it’s been “very ugly, mud-slinging back and forth” on social media over the statue.
After the meeting, Day, the club’s president, said in an email that many of the points raised by Kaylor and Reese were “misstatements or misunderstanding” of the club’s efforts.
She said the club since last October has publicized its plans for the statue via various channels such as Facebook, weekly newsletter, a large poster at the high school’s front office and a booth and poster at every home football game.
According to the club, the student council in 2018 asked U-Knighted Kingdom to look into what it will take to build a statue of the school’s mascot and that of over 700 students polled, 85 percent supported the project.
The club further maintained it garnered approval for the statue from Principal Fields last July and worked closely with the school’s administration throughout the process.
It also stated the governing board was informed about the project at the Oct. 23 school board meeting.
“We told all who would listen that it was planned to be 10 feet in size,” Day said. “Our board filled out all the forms and paperwork we were aware of or asked to complete. We are volunteers and did the very best we could with what we knew to do.”
Day said so far about $50,000 has been raised and paid to the sculptor. The estimated $100,000 cost also includes installation.
The Knight statue was designed digitally, then in clay, and has now been made into a silicone mold before being cast in bronze.
“It has been sitting in storage while we waited for the school board to vote to accept the statue,” Day said. “A date for placement is unknown since we have been waiting for the vote.
“Now that we can move forward, we will work closely with the district for exact placement and timeline,” she continued. “We have offered three suggestions of where to put the statue, we have offered to have it stand on the ground or be placed on a pedestal depending on our administration and district approval.”
Day added the future anticipated cost for upkeep of the statue includes $20 annually for supplies to clean and wax the statue.
“Student council or any number of student organizations looking for service hours would be able to handle the minimal maintenance requirements,” she said.
Regarding concerns that the statue might be vandalized, she noted the statue will have reinforced stainless-steel supports secured deep into the ground that make it almost impossible to move. In addition, the statue is coated in a way that makes it easy to wash off any paint.
Day acknowledged there are some who don’t want the statue.
“We are not perfect people,” she said. “This cause will not be supported by everyone – no cause is. We simply ask that people recognize that this project is our best efforts to help our students accomplish something great for our school.”