Hurricane, UT Breaks Ground on New Robert Lichfield Recreation Center

Nora Ashleigh Barrie | September 23, 2023

In 1998, Utah businessman Robert Lichfield started ​the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs ​and Schools (WWASP) as an umbrella company for ​numerous Troubled Teen Industry programs in the ​United States as well as a number of third-world ​countries. For over twenty years, children in 49 ​WWASP programs around the world endured ​unspeakable abuse and neglect while Lichfield ​profited and prospered.

In 2022, Hurricane, UT mayor Nanette Billings ​approached Lichfield to request the use of an ​unassembled, prefabricated building owned by ​Lichfield for the city’s new recreation center.

Lichfield agreed to donate the building to the City of Hurricane and it was decided that the ​recreation center would be named the Robert “Bob” Lichfield Recreation Center.

Considering the vast and countless instances of horrific child abuse that occurred within ​WWASP programs, the Troubled Teen Industry survivor community, understandably, is ​outraged, appalled, and deeply hurt by the willingness of Billings and the City of Hurricane to ​so blatantly dismiss and devalue the traumatic experiences of WWASP survivors by demanding ​that Lichfield’s name be on this public building because he gifted it, saving the city millions ​and allowing an alternative funding source other than taxpayer dollars.

I arrived at the event location, with two other survivors, about 30 minutes before the event ​started. After parking in the lot available to the public, a Hurricane police officer pulled into ​the lot, positioning his vehicle directly behind mine, ensuring that we would not be able to ​leave that location until he allowed us to. One of the survivors with me got out of my car and ​approached the officer, still seated in his patrol SUV.



The groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert “Bob” Litchfield Recreation Center took place in ​Hurricane, UT this past Tuesday (September 19, 2023). The half-hour event was led by ​Hurricane Mayor Nanettte Billings, the only speaker at the ceremony, despite being flanked by ​every member of the City Council. At least half of the 36 member Hurricane police force was ​also in attendance, vastly outnumbering the fifteen or so citizens present, including our small ​group of four survivors and one local ally.

When the idea for this recreation center was first proposed in 2019 as a general obligation ​bond, allowing the residents of Hurricane to vote on whether they approved of the use of ​taxpayer dollars to fund the planning and building of this recreation center, “76% of voters ​said ‘no, we don’t wanna pay for a recreation center’,” Billings stated in her speech. “The ​citizens wanted to have a place, they just didn’t wanna have the expense, the cost, of having it ​come from their tax dollars,” Billings elaborated.

Before the idea of approaching Robert Lichfield was presented, Hurricane entrepreneur and ​soccer coach Daniel Cox contacted Mayor Billings. He had a suggestion: build what he referred ​to as “sports courts” at the corners of each of the city’s 10 parks and 2 outdoor sports ​complexes, filling the community’s need for recreation areas, while keeping costs down. When ​that idea was shut down, Cox had another suggestion. Previously, he had purchased a ​prefabricated building from Robert Lichfield, and he thought the local businessman might ​have another available.

Billings recounted how she approached Lichfield to request ​the use of his second prefabricated building for the new ​recreation center, “So I contacted him, and then I contacted ​him again, and then I contacted him again, and then I ​contacted him again, and then I contacted him again, and ​finally, we were able to talk. And I begged, and then I pleaded, ​and then I got on my hands and knees, and then I said ‘pretty ​please’ a lot, and then I said ‘this is what we’re willing to do, ​would you help us?’ and he finally agreed.” Part of this ​agreement stated that the City of Hurricane could not scrap ​the building if they chose not to use it, as well as the ​stipulation that the project would be completed quickly.

Hurricane would have to take possession of the 15,000 square foot building and begin ​assembly by September 30, 2023 with a completion date set for spring of 2024.

According to Mayor Billings, this project will cost the City of Hurricane around $1 million, ​vastly lower than estimates given for a brand new building to be constructed. Included in this ​was the $10k cost of reverse engineering the building plans, because the donated structure did ​not come with assembly plans. In addition to the free building donated by Lichfield, local ​companies also offered to install the gym floors, basketball hoops, soccer goals, and more ​equipment free of charge. Because the majority of this project was donated to the city by ​various contributors, Hurricane will be spending that $1 million for the blueprints and to add ​bathrooms and a storage room to the recreation facility. In exchange for those donations, not ​only will Robert Lichfield’s name be on the building itself, all other donors will have their ​names carved into the floors of the two gymnasiums the space will be divided into.

In her fifteen minute speech, Billings spent more than half of that time dismissively ​confronting the existence of a survivor-backed petition while simultaneously invalidating and ​outright denying the lived experiences of survivors of WWASP and other Troubled Teen ​Industry programs. “I don’t know anyone that has personally done anything that they’ve... that ​the claims are... that they’ve um... talked about. I don’t know any of the employees that have ​done those things and so I don’t know anything. And I don’t know any of the allegations that ​have actually been to court and where someone’s won. But I will say this: I am sorry if that’s ​happened to anyone here in this crowd or that’s... anyone that’s online that’s watching this.” ​Billings further continued her diatribe of disregarding the trauma of TTI survivors, “When ​you’re dealing with such a tender topic as abuse, and that’s kind of where I think that this has ​gone, where people feel... felt like they were being abused. I’ve had two things that have come ​to mind: One, is a little bit of the responsibility, and I’m not saying that the parents are bad ​people, I’m just saying that parents sign away rights and... and that’s where this started, and so ​when a child gets put into a program that, I know back in the 90s, that if a kid... they were ​taken out of their beds, flown across the country, as if they were kidnapped, taken and... and... ​through a program, and I’m sure that the trauma of something like that would be very ​difficult.”

Billings made a weak attempt to connect with survivors of the Troubled Teen Industry by ​minimizing their trauma and sharing what she would have done and what she would have felt ​regarding a unique kind of experience that she has no understanding of or desire to ​understand from the viewpoint of those who have lived through those experiences. “I’ve never ​had that kind of experience and so I can’t say that I know exactly how they feel, and I’m sorry ​that that’s happened to someone, but I am gonna say that I’ve seen and met a lot of people that ​have been through programs and they have become, um... better and stronger. Every single ​thing that’s happened to me in my life that’s been terrible has made me a better person and ​stronger and I’m sorry that someone else has to go through something to make them better ​and stronger, but I’m not sorry that I’ve had to go through different things I’ve had to go ​through, but I’m sorry that’s happened to someone.”

Billings reiterated the need to put Lichfield’s name on this new recreation center. “This ​building is not in necessarily honor of Bob Lichfield, this is really honoring our community to ​have a recreation center, but his name is going on this building because he donated this ​building, and when people donate, they oftentimes get something out of it. Recognition for ​whatever it is they do.”

Billings concluded her speech with, “This is a historic day for our community,” before urging ​the members of the city council as well as the heads of all city departments involved with this ​project to grab their shovels and break ground on this physical representation of the denial ​and dismissal of the abuse countless children endured over the 25 years the World Wide ​Association of Schools and Programs remained in operation.

According to the Wikipedia page about the organization, “WWASPS officials report that the ​organization is no longer in business, and the facilities originally under it no longer associate ​with the name, but because of ongoing litigation, it has not been dissolved.”

Surviving the Troubled Teen Industry