December 17th, 1997

Stadium Woes Startle School Leaders

By Kris Hundley
St. Petersburg Times

Fund-raisers at Royal Palm Beach High School thought they’d come up with a
great idea when they decided to sell naming rights to their new stadium for
$ 100,000.

But, with a final vote on the issue tonight, school officials find themselves
defending the deal. The reason? The deal’s with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.,
the subject of a federal investigation.

The Palm Beach County School Board’s expected approval of the donation from
Columbia’s Palms West Hospital has sparked a flurry of calls from reporters.
School officials said they just learned Friday that Columbia has been under
government scrutiny for fraudulent billing for the past year.

They also downplayed concerns about Columbia’s troubles, saying the investigation,
which has resulted in the indictment of three executives, seems to be targeted
at the corporate level and not the local hospital.

"I must say I’m surprised by the media interest in this," said Sandi
Richmond, the board member who represents Royal Palm Beach. "But I think
the donation is great. We in education are going to need to encourage major
people to come to the table with money. We’ll put their name wherever they want.
I’m not offended by that at all."

Pat Lynch, head of the high school’s booster club, sees nothing wrong in taking
Columbia’s cash.

"It’s not like we’re naming it O.J. Simpson Stadium after taking hundreds
of thousands of dollars," said Lynch, a deputy sheriff in Palm Beach County.
"It’s not like they’ve murdered anyone."

If approved by the School Board, the 2,800-seat stadium, which opened in mid-November,
would be called Palms West Hospital Community Stadium.

Although selling naming rights to professional and college stadiums is routine,
it’s not a common practice in public high schools.

But the practice is not unheard of in South Florida. Corepoint Development
bought naming rights to the stadium at Wellington High in West Palm Beach 10
years ago.

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