COLUMBIA -- MU students are back in town.
The sign thefts begin.
Sixteen of the 123 new black and gold MU-themed street signs the university added throughout campus a few weeks ago have already been taken, said Campus Facilities Communications Manager Karlan Seville.
Last week, MU sophomore Zach Toal was arrested on suspicion of stealing two signs — Providence Road and Champions Drive, said Capt. Brian Weimer of the MU Police Department. Toal, a redshirt freshman on the MU wrestling team, was caught on a video surveillance camera.
Four signs, which are valued at $50 each, were returned to their original locations, Seville said.
To prevent the signs from falling victim to the stealing that has plagued Columbia for years, Seville said the university now sells them in the campus bookstore.
“We were hoping that if we put them for sale, people would be less inclined to take them,” she said.
The signs also use rivets instead of bolts to make them less thief-friendly, but that hasn’t been enough to prevent them from being swiped.
Because sign thefts have been a common problem in Columbia, Seville said the university knew the black and gold ones would be a target.
From October 2008 to September 2009, the city replaced 1,442 stolen or damaged signs which cost Columbia approximately $173,000, said Public Works Operations Manager Mary Ellen Lea. Replacing each sign costs about $120.
“We usually have problems with signs like Keystone and Corona being stolen,” Lea said.
Columbia Fire Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said that stealing street signs can cause serious problems for fire, police and medical personnel responding to emergency calls.
“When people take these signs, they could really be delaying our response,” he said. “I really wish people would think twice before taking them."
Despite the recent thefts, Mizzou Alumni Association Executive Director Todd McCubbin said he is pleased with the new signs.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great idea, and it’s great to see them up around campus,” he said. “They give the university a distinct look.”
McCubbin said he saw no rationale in attempting to make off with any of the signs.
“There’s no reason to steal one," he said. "You can buy them at the bookstore.”
Single-sided replicas of the tiger-themed signs can be purchased for $34.99. Double-sided signs cost $39.99.
Proceeds go toward a general scholarship fund, McCubbin said.
Seville said the university is hesitant to replace stolen signs until they can be properly secured.
“We’re in the process of taking extra measures,” she said.
The signs were funded by a $5,000 donation from the Mizzou Alumni Association, she said.
“The money that was originally donated – there’s enough to cover the signs that were stolen,” she said. “But if they continue to disappear, we may need to approach the alumni association about whether we want to keep making these kinds of signs.”