'No joy in the fact that it was 4 kids that were involved in this'

EUGENE, Ore. - Peter Wright and his 6-year-old Gabriel grandson rode their bikes to Eugene Civic Stadium on Tuesday to witness firstand the charred remains of the historic wooden grandstands.

"Gabriel had never seen the results of a big fire before," Wright said. "I'm not sure I've ever seen one up close like this."

Flames devoured the venerable stadium June 29, just a month before the Eugene Civic Alliance said work was to begin on a new roof.

Firefighters contained the flames to the stadium, saving nearby homes from the inferno.

And in the aftermath, police said 4 preteen boys - three ages 12, one age 10 - set fire to the stadium. The boys face numerous charges in the juvenile justice system, including first degree arson. Two of the boys face arson charges in connection with a second fire in a trash bin.

The Civic Alliance had planned to rehabilitate the grandstands, built in 1938, as part of a youth-oriented sports complex. The stadium had sat empty since the Eugene Emeralds last game there in September 2009.

"We still have a vision for putting this place back together as a community resource for the kids in the community, and we're going to follow through on that," said Derek Johnson with the Civic Alliance. The group raised $4.5 million to buy the buildings and property from the Eugene 4J School District.

"We find no joy in the fact that it was 4 kids that were involved in this," Johnson said.

Johnson said the Civic Alliance hopes to reclaim something of the former stadium for a future memorial. Rebuilding could take 3 to 5 years, he predicted. People interested in helping with the effort are encouraged to contact the Alliance.

"First step is respect the old building. Respect what went on here before. Then get it cleaned up and start looking at how we can best use this site for a community resource," he said.

For Wright and his grandson, the scene provided a moment for reflection Tuesday before the pedaled away.

"It's scary. And like all big fires, it's sort of fascinating," Wright said.

"I feel a little surprised, and also a little surprised how that structure stayed up," Gabriel said.

"Well, we're hoping of course that he never feels inclined to do this," Wright said of his grandson.
"He's a really good guy, so I don't think he ever would, right?"


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