By Ted AYALA
Worn and battered by the elements for over half a century, Stengel Field Stadium, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years, will soon be no more.
Glendale City Council voted on Tuesday to demolish the building one month after transferring management of Stengel Field to the Glendale Unified School District. At a council meeting on Sept. 24, Community and Parks director Jess Duran warned the city that the danger the structure poses to the public “cannot be ignored.”
Extensive water damage to the stadium prompted the city to close most of the structure to the public in 2011, leaving only about 300 bleacher seats available for use. Affected areas included the subterranean locker rooms, which had been red-tagged. Continued deterioration forced the city to cut off access to all but the first two rows of bleachers in June. That situation, according to Duran, is “very inconvenient” for Crescenta Valley High School (CVHS) and Glendale Community College (GCC). Both schools use Stengel Field for their baseball teams. It was noted at last month’s meeting that big rivalry games for CVHS can attract over 1,000 fans – far in excess of the seating now available at Stengel.
The recommendation to demolish the stadium, according to City Manager Scott Ochoa, came after city staff estimated that the costs to rehabilitate the existing structure would range from $3 million to $5 million. Instead, the district will begin fundraising towards a new structure, while the city demolishes the structure, replacing it with temporary aluminum bleachers that would be ready for use by spring 2014. The bleachers would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under last month’s agreement, transferring management of Stengel Field to the GUSD, the city would continue to be responsible for the stadium.
“There isn’t much more to add,” said Duran concerning the situation. “It is the proverbial time to bite the bullet. We feel that the building has [exhausted] its useful life.”
Demolishing the existing stadium and replacing it with temporary bleachers will cost the city $450,000. Development impact fees paid from multi-unit housing complexes will fund the project.
Duran was quick to remind the council that the field itself is “totally unaffected” by the matter, adding that its condition “is the best it has been in a long time.” He also said that the demolition of the stadium will not entail having to drop the site’s namesake, Casey Stengel. Known as “The Old Professor,” Stengel led the New York Yankees to five consecutive World Series wins during the early 1950s. He lived in Glendale and is buried at Forest Lawn.
“That name is a big part of the fundraising plan [for GUSD],” said Ochoa. That plan, he noted, would include “hitting up everyone from Major League Baseball to private foundations to ball players who have famously played on this field and have done well.”
According to a city report, it could take upwards of three years for the GUSD to find the funding to construct a new stadium. Ochoa said the district will be examining its fundraising abilities in order to determine whether it could gather enough funding to build a modern stadium or to settle for permanent bleachers. Estimates for the cost of a new stadium hover around $8 million; the cost for permanent bleachers around $800,000.
“Based on the feedback [the GUSD] gets, they may aim for that higher number,” Ochoa said. “If not, then the worst case scenario is that they come back with something far more modest, but [still] permanent.”
Councilmember Frank Quintero, though approving of the plan, said he had doubts whether the GUSD will be able to gather the funds to build a new stadium.
“I think it’s going to be an uphill battle,” he said. “I don’t see how [the GUSD] is going to be able to raise that kind of money. I support it overall. I just think it’s kind of unrealistic to expect this $8 million fundraising effort. Hopefully I’m wrong. I wish [the GUSD] a lot of luck.”
He also hoped that Stengel Field wouldn’t become a “closed shop” available only for CVHS and GCC, while excluding the rest of the public.
Mayor Dave Weaver expressed appreciation for the stadium’s historical value, though he also said that rehabilitating the building would be far too cost prohibitive for the city.
“You have to tear the whole structure down and rebuild,” he said. “The only thing is to take it down.”
But he also countered Quintero’s pessimism with a more optimistic outlook for the GUSD’s ability to raise funds for a new stadium.
“Get into contact with the New York Yankees,” the mayor urged the school district. “They have pretty deep pockets; it is named after their manager. I think it’s doable in time. It’s the only way to go.”