STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State plans to renovate the building where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually molested boys, confronting one of the most potent and sinister symbols of a scandal from which it is still trying to recover.
The school intends to remodel the football team shower and locker room area as a direct result of Sandusky’s crimes, university spokesman David La Torre told The Associated Press on Friday.
Renovation plans for the Lasch Football Building were drawn up shortly after Sandusky’s arrest in November, La Torre said, but the university can’t move forward with those plans until all possible legal proceedings have been completed.
Sandusky, a longtime member of Joe Paterno’s coaching staff, was convicted last month of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Two top administrators face trial on charges of lying to a grand jury and failing to report allegations of child abuse.
Some of the most stomach-churning assaults for which the 68-year-old Sandusky was convicted took place in the showers of the Lasch building. A janitor saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in 2000 but didn’t report it to authorities. In 2001, a graduate football assistant caught Sandusky molesting a boy in the shower and told Paterno, who alerted top administrators. No one reported that attack, either.
The disclosure of Penn State’s remodeling plans came as the school weighs how to deal with the ubiquitous imagery associated with the scandal. Besides the Lasch building, there’s the bronzed statue of Paterno and the library that’s named after him, as well as a downtown mural depicting the Hall of Fame coach and ousted Penn State President Graham Spanier.
Reminders of the Sandusky scandal, and the senior school officials accused of covering it up, are all over Penn State’s campus and State College.
“Does the university want to completely wipe the slate clean? If they do, then they probably want to get rid of something like this — they can still honor Joe in a different way,” said Erik Sandell, of Minneapolis, while visiting the Paterno statue with a friend on Friday. “Get rid of this, get rid of that facility.”
The statue outside Beaver Stadium served as a focal point for mourners of the late coach, but it has turned into a target for critics angered by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s findings that Paterno, Spanier and other university administrators concealed allegations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001 to avoid bad publicity.
Some newspaper columnists and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden have said the statue should be taken down.
“You go to a Penn State football game and there’s 100,000 people down there and they got that statute and you know doggone well they’ll start talking about Sandusky,” Bowden told the AP. “If it was me, I wouldn’t want to have it brought up every time I walked out on the field.”
University trustees chairwoman Karen Peetz said Friday that the topic of honoring Paterno — a rallying cry for alumni and former players angered by how he was fired days after Sandusky was arrested in November — remained a sensitive issue that would continue to be discussed.
“It’s going to take a lot of dialogue with the community,” Peetz said. “We want to be reflective, we want to go slowly, and it will be something that will take a lot of deliberation.”
Anthony Lubrano was a vocal critic of the Penn State board’s actions in November before winning election as a trustee this spring. Asked Friday if the statue should be taken down, Lubrano said, “I think this board recognizes the contributions of Joe Paterno at Penn State, and I think that given that they understand all that he’s done, he will certainly be respected by Penn State.”
While the most glaring on-campus reminder of the scandal might be the Mildred and Louis Lasch Football Building, the Lasch family has no qualms about leaving its name on it, a family member said Friday.
“You don’t build a building and put your name on it expecting that something like this is going to happen, but we have seen a lot of good things happen in that building … and we expect to see a lot of good, honorable things happen in that building in the future,” said Ken Smukler, a grandson of the Laschs, who helped start Penn State football’s booster club in 1959 and donated $1.7 million to build what is billed as one of the finest collegiate football operations facilities in the nation.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson told a news conference after the trustees’ meeting in Dunmore on Friday that there was discussion about “modest renovations” at Lasch. Afterward, he told the AP that Athletic Director David Joyner and new Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien have discussed the renovations, including to the locker room and shower.
Football players appearing at a charity event on campus on Friday were divided on renovations to their locker room.
“It doesn’t creep me out at all being in (the locker room),” cornerback Stephon Morris said. “I’m fine with it.”
Later, defensive tackle Jordan Hill said he and some others “feel uncomfortable.”
“A couple guys will joke around about it, but, you know, we’ll be grown men about it,” he said. “We don’t want to act like little kids and be immature so we’ll tell them, ‘Come on, just shut up and go get in the shower.'”
A huge downtown mural shows many figures in Penn State history. The artist, Michael Pilato, said he had no immediate plans to remove Paterno or Spanier. He already painted over Sandusky, replacing him with a Penn State grad who is an advocate for abuse victims and issues.
The Paterno family is well known in the State College community for philanthropic efforts, including millions of dollars to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships. Even Penn State’s creamery has a famous flavor named after the coach, Peachy Paterno.
Ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, who left office last year, said Paterno’s name should stay on the library — “it symbolizes the good of Joe Paterno,” he said — but that other reminders, such as the statue, should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The Paterno name has disappeared from other honors.
Nike founder Phil Knight, who won thunderous applause with his passionate defense of the coach at his January memorial service, decided Thursday to remove Paterno’s name from a child development center on the company campus in Oregon.
The Big Ten also removed Paterno’s name from the football championship trophy it had named after him.
Paterno’s family said the coach, who died in January of lung cancer, would not have taken part in a cover-up.
Cynthia Zujaowski, of Clarks Summit, whose husband is a Penn State graduate, said the statue should remain.
“He won more football games than anyone in the world. That accomplishment stands. He helped build Penn State as it is today. He stood for integrity,” said Zujaowski, who attended Friday’s board of trustees meeting. “Statute or nor statue, that legacy remains, and I believe that the statue should stand in memory of that.”
The statue’s sculptor, Angelo DiMaria, said it would be difficult to see his work taken down but he could accept it if it would help the school heal.
“If the statue stays, there will always be people who don’t believe he deserves to be there,” DiMaria said. “If it goes, there will always be people who believe he achieved great things.”
On Friday, a bouquet of daisies and purple flowers were left on top of a sign at the base of the statue that read: “Remember: He was a man. Not a God!!!”
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