Red Hill 'I'

This illustration shows the two proposed locations where Idaho State University would like to replace the iconic letter ‘I’ that graced the face of Red Hill for nearly a century.

POCATELLO — A local engineer says she’s devised a preliminary concept that would enable Idaho State University to permanently restore its iconic letter “I” to Red Hill, while avoiding past safety and erosion problems that forced the original symbol’s removal.

But the project wouldn’t be cheap, based on findings of recently completed engineering and soil-sample studies. The cost has been estimated at roughly $300,000.

Krystal Chanda, a professional engineer and principal with Pocatello-based A&E Engineering, has proposed to construct the “I” from a durable composite grating — made of plastic reinforced with fiberglass.

The 2-square-inch gaps in the grating would allow precipitation to infiltrate the giant “I” and would thereby prevent runoff. From below and from a distance, Chanda said the “I” should, nonetheless, appear solid.

The letter would be mounted on a steel frame, anchored deep into the bedrock below, and elevated slightly above the hillside to allow vegetation beneath it to grow. Chanda said the legs of the frame would be adjustable to accommodate variations in the slope.

The original concrete “I” was built by students and graced the hillside for nearly a century, until it was removed about five years ago. The hillside was excavated years ago to provide backfill for road construction in the campus area, and runoff from the original “I” exacerbated erosion of the disturbed area.

Chanda said the rugged and lightweight material she’s suggested, called Fibergrate, is commonly used to build walkways and platforms in industrial settings. She said it withstands the elements, and even chemical contact.

Though the preliminary designs don’t include lighting, Chanda said there’s been substantial support for an “I” that would illuminate at night. She said ISU has a potential donor for lighting equipment.

Chanda has enjoyed the opportunity to work on the project, as an ISU alumnus and native Pocatellan.

“You hear the phrase ‘communiversity,’ and I think having that “I” back on the hill is going to be something that’s going to help the community and university come together,” Chanda said.

Chanda said the project’s substantial cost is related mostly to the need to anchor the “I” into the hill’s bedrock, and the potential to save by using cheaper materials is limited.

Stuart Summers, ISU’s associate vice president of marketing and communication, emphasized no designs have been finalized. The next step will be to figure out how to finance the project, he said.

“All of this is preliminary, and all of this is stuff for us to consider as we begin to figure out financing the project,” Summers said. “We’ve got preliminary studies back, and now the information will be used to determine costs and options for constructing it and what it will take to put the “I” back on the hill.”

Summers credited “dedicated alumni” with keeping the project alive. He said a university leadership team, a campus action team and an alumni team have been assembled to help plan the project, and meetings will take place near the beginning of the new year.

Summers said the members will discuss fundraising options and the possibility of obtaining university funds. Summers said the project could commence quickly, upon completion of fundraising.

“We don’t want to put something up on the hill and have to come back in 50 years and solve that problem again,” Summers said.

Summers said the engineering firm evaluated two possible locations — one above the original site of the “I” and another to the south on the same face, directly above Davis Field.

Both sites would work, according to studies, but most alumni would prefer a location close to the original site, Summers said.

As an ISU student, Summers recalled the “I” was like a “beacon that represented the school’s history, legacy and tradition.”

“Those icons are important at building campus morale and building a campus community,” Summers said.

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