By Ted AYALA
Supporters of Stengel Field scored a victory on Tuesday when the Glendale City Council approved a motion authorizing the transfer of maintenance, operation and management responsibilities from the city to the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD).
The field has been a cornerstone of local baseball since its construction in 1949. It was subsequently named after Casey Stengel, who as manager for the New York Yankees led the team to an unprecedented five consecutive World Series wins between 1949 and 1953. “The Old Professor,” as he was affectionately known by his teammates, was a Glendale resident.
Stengel Field currently serves as the home field for the Crescenta Valley High School (CVHS) Falcons, as well as the Glendale Community College (GCC) Vaqueros. They share the venue with the Glendale Little League and Babe Ruth League, as well as the Glendale Angelenos, a California Collegiate Summer League baseball team founded in 2011.
Concerns were raised last spring by members of the community over the city’s ability to maintain the venue and its overuse during the summer months.
“It is being overused right now,” CVHS coach Phil Torres said in July regarding Stengel Field. “The grass is being destroyed.”
Meetings had been held between city and GUSD staff over the summer attempting to reach an agreement that would allow the school district to take primary responsibility of the venue. Talks were stalled initially, but a breakthrough was finally reached in recent weeks.
Calling Stengel Field “a tremendous asset to the community,” City Manager Scott Ochoa was glowing in his recommendation to transfer primary responsibilities of the venue to GUSD.
“Rarely do we have the opportunity to bring you an item that makes sense for so many different stakeholders as we do tonight,” he said before presenting the item to council.
Under the prior arrangement, the city assumed the full financial responsibility of the field’s upkeep.
“However,” noted Jess Duran of Community Parks and Recreation, “[GUSD and GCC did] provide services in helping the city maintain the field with donations of labor, materials, and sometimes sharing in the costs of special upgrades or repairs, such as laser-leveling the field on an annual basis.”
The new arrangement would transfer those duties to GUSD, which Duran noted “already [has] the capacity” to assume the mantle of responsibility. Though GUSD would become the venue’s primary caretaker, the district guaranteed its continued use by GCC for its baseball team’s games and practices. Similar conditions were guaranteed for the Glendale Little League and Babe Ruth League. GUSD would also agree to pay for the field’s electricity and water costs.
GUSD and GCC have their own advertising programs and would continue to be the sole recipients of those revenue streams. The city, however, would continue to reserve all rights on filming requests with the revenue from potential filming going solely to the city.
The initial term for the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the city and the GUSD is two years, beginning on Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2015, with optional two one-year renewals.
City staff estimated the savings from transferring Stengel Field’s operations to GUSD would be $200,000. Those funds could be allocated to maintain and service the city’s other public spaces.
“The savings in staff time alone is something that is a major driver for our recommendation in this matter,” added Ochoa.
Still up in the air is the ultimate fate of the stadium structure on Stengel Field, which Duran noted “cannot be ignored.”
That structure consists of two underground locker rooms, a ground level concession stand, restrooms, equipment storage rooms and built-in bleachers. Those bleachers have served as the roofing for the stadium structure. Worn down by weather over the past six decades, water leakage from the bleachers into the interior of the stadium put the integrity of the structure into question. Concerns over its safety led to its closure in 2011, with only the first two rows of bleachers safe enough for use – enough room for approximately 300 spectators.
The limited available space makes it difficult for CVHS and GCC to host big rivalry games at the venue. Such CVHS games can attract over 1,000 fans, said city staff.
City staff is set to return to council on Oct. 8 to discuss various options that would deal with the structure’s future. Possibilities include preservation and rehabilitation of the existing structure, demolition of the old structure in favor of a modern replacement, and eliminating the structure altogether with only the bleachers being replaced. Under the options at hand, existing bleachers would be temporarily replaced with aluminum ones.
Ochoa said that the MoU was ideal in that it gives the city and GUSD ample time to commit to a future solution.
“There is a great deal of excitement with GUSD about the challenge and opportunity of raising the funds to replicate the structure that’s there,” he said. “Because it’s a historic venue, has a lot of history, and just a lot of atmosphere that goes along with that venue.”
Former CVHS Falcon and Toronto Blue Jay minor league player Bryan Longpre spoke to the council in favor of the MoU, making a passionate plea in support of the venue’s importance.
“My family played on that field, coached on that field long before I was born,” he said. “I know there are many other residents who share that same story. It is a historic ballpark and, like the Alex Theatre, something that is very valuable to many people in Glendale.
“To me and many other residents, [Stengel Field] is more than just a field – it’s a home. It’s a point of pride in this community.”