Pinckney School tunnel defaced in ‘heartbreaking’ act of vandalism

Pedestrians use the underground tunnel below Sixth Street connecting the Pinckney and Old West neighborhoods, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The tunnel and parts of the mural that decorate its walls were vandalized with graffiti over the holiday break.

Faculty and staff at Pinckney Elementary School were met with an unpleasant surprise when they returned from winter break Wednesday. Sometime over the holidays, Lawrence police told Pinckney employees, the school’s tunnel had been vandalized with graffiti.

“It makes me sad,” Principal Kristi Hill said Thursday morning. “That tunnel has been such a source of pride and a lot of work on a lot of people’s parts.”

Constructed in the 1950s, the tunnel provides a safe passageway underneath Sixth Street to the school’s front entrance, connecting the Pinckney and Old West Lawrence neighborhoods. It’s used by students and nearby residents alike, said Hill, who describes the tunnel’s recent vandalism as “heartbreaking.”

After falling into disrepair some time ago, the formerly dark and dirty underpass received a makeover in 2013 courtesy of the Pinckney Parent-Teacher Organization and several other local entities. The school’s PTO commissioned Van Go Inc. to design, paint and install a 90-foot mural along the tunnel walls, with the hope that public art might deter future vandals.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case, as one city employee discovered late last month. Hill said the worker reported the incident to police, who were then dispatched to the scene around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 27, according to Sgt. Amy Rhoads of the Lawrence Police Department. The police report describes several graffiti taggings bearing the letters “SWAE.”

Pinckney Elementary students walk through the tunnel beneath 6th Street on their way home from school Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Murals line both walls the length of the tunnel thanks to artists from Van Go, Inc. and help from the Pinckney PTO, the city of Lawrence, Lawrence Schools Foundation, OWL Association and the Pinckney Neighborhood Association.

“It does not appear that there is any suspect information at this time, nor does it appear there have been any similar reports with this tagging,” Rhoads said in an email.

Graffiti or no, the Pinckney tunnel remained open to students returning to school Thursday morning, Hill said. She hopes to eventually paint over the defaced portions of the wall when the weather warms a bit, but said plans are still being worked out with the school’s PTO.

Hill said the group has also reached out to Van Go about possible repairs to the mural’s metal panels, which were also tagged.

“It’s such a neat project and such a great thing for the Pinckney area,” Hill said of the school’s beloved tunnel. “It’s so disappointing. More than anything, I’m just disappointed that somebody would do that.”

The $10,000 mural was the result of at least two years of fundraising, according to a Journal-World article about the project’s 2013 unveiling. Damage costs as a result of the vandalism had yet to be determined Thursday morning.

In the meantime, Hill is asking anyone with information on the incident to contact the police at 785-832-7509.