The unique history of ‘The War’

By on December 25, 2013

With major turf project on horizon, questions again arise on ownership, lease

If you’re confused about Ephrata Area School District’s relationship with the War Memorial Association, you’re not alone.

“I often hear misconceptions about the relationship,” Kristee Reichard, district business manager, said last week.

What is commonly known is the 66-year-old War Memorial Association maintains War Memorial Field and that Ephrata High School plays home football and baseball games there.

What has confused many is the question of who actually owns the field and who has final administrative approval on changes and improvements to the field.

The simple answer is Ephrata School District.

But the unusual arrangement between the school and WMA is not so simple.

The issue became relevant when an anonymous donor pledged $1 million to the district to install artificial turf on War Memorial Field.

WMA has expressed concerns about its future if there is no grass to cut or care for.

But with $1 million possible banked for the project, the school board is leaning toward installing synthetic turf at War Memorial Field.

Tim Stayer, school board president, and Superintendent Brian Troop say the district is also committed to WMA.

The Sale

The land used for War Memorial Field was owned by Cloister Post No. 429 American Legion.

Ephrata School District purchased the roughly six-acre field Dec. 6, 1954 from Post No. 429, according to documents provided by Reichard.

The Partnership

The sale to the school district, know then as Ephrata Union School District, eventually superseded a 99-year lease of the property by Post No. 429 to the newly formed Ephrata War Memorial Association in 1947.

The WMA, established by 24 civic associations, churches and individuals, was formed with the purpose of caring for the property that was established as a memorial to honor military war veterans.

The Old Lease

That original 99-year lease, signed Sept. 20, 1947, stated that WMA use the property as an “athletic and sports field open to the general public.”

In that four-page lease agreement, WMA agreed to pay Post No. 429 $1 annually until 2046.

The document gave WMA permission to erect buildings and structures as necessary for the purpose of sports. It stipulated that WMA host at least three sports events on the premises every six months.

It listed a litany of covenants WMA had accepted responsibility for. WMA by 1948 had graded, seeded and fenced the newly named War Memorial Athletic Field.

The “New” Agreement

Some of the WMA’s original responsibilities are listed in a new agreement the school district signed with WMA three years after Post 429 sold the field to Ephrata School district in 1954.

That agreement, signed May 13, 1957, gave the school district exclusive use of the field during school hours ­ described as 6 a.m. to 6 p.m each school day. The field was to be used for “school functions, purposes, classes and activities,” according to the agreement.

WMA was given jurisdiction over the use of the field “at all other times.”

However, all school functions, activities or events would be given priority the school district, according to the document.

“Replacement and Expansion”

Under the 1957 agreement, WMA continued its role maintaining the field, including “upkeep, replacement and expansion of the field and facilities.”

In fact, the 1957 agreement states that document shall not alter the stipulations in the 1947 agreement that initially established the 99-year lease of the field to WMA.

However, it established an advisory council board made up of two school board directors and two WMA directors.

The advisory board determines the WMA budget and decides how much the school district will fund WMA.

The district currently pays an annual $40,000 stipend to WMA to maintain the natural turf at War Memorial Field.

Managing Turf Project

Some residents ­ and at least one school board member ­ believe that the agreement giving WMA the responsibility of “replacement and expansion” of War Memorial Field could benefit the district if and when it installs artificial turf.

Board member Glenn Miller last week suggested the board could save money by allowing the WMA board to manage the process of installing artificial turf.

Miller hinted that since WMA is a private, non-profit organization, it may be excluded from paying “prevailing wage” for the project.

The law requires that a community’s “prevailing wage” be paid on public construction projects above $25,000 ­including school district projects.

“Is there an option where (WMA) can do this and save money by avoiding prevailing wage requirements?” Miller asked.

Susan Freidman, district solicitor, said the district would examine whether WMA could manage the project or parts of it.

Troop recently submitted preliminary cost projections for the turf field to be $1.5 million ­ that does not include the $1 million anonymous pledge.

He has proposed that any turf installation project should also include upgrades to the bathrooms and construction of locker rooms or a field house.

The district projects it could offset about $300,000 over a 15-year warranty period on a synthetic turf field if the $40,000 stipend to WMA were cut in half.

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