Kemper Memorial Debate Rolls On:
School Board, League of Women Voters & Historical Society

by Joan R. Simon

aerial park
Artist's sketch of School Board's Proposed Plan

(January 14, 2004) The flow of talk swirling around the Kemper Memorial Park issue did not abate last week, with three community groups focusing on the Mamaroneck School Board’s hotly debated proposal to move and reconfigure the memorial.( See: Moving Memorial Back on the Drawing Board or Board - Kemper Family Positions

Six of the eight speakers at the School Board monthly meeting on Tuesday evening supported the proposal, with several urging the Kemper family to consider the changing needs of the community. There was more opposition to the plan at the Larchmont Historical Society discussion last Thursday night when School Board Trustee Alan Parter informed the group that the school district’s legal interpretation of the deed would enable a portion of the memorial land to be used for a new field.

The Larchmont-Mamaroneck League of Women Voters also tackled the controversy at their monthly Nautilus Breakfast last Friday, with suggestions ranging from immediate legal recourse to mediation as possible solutions to the current impasse between the Mamaroneck School Board and the Kemper family.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Uphold the Deed
Bisno
Adam Bisno: "Either you uphold [the deed] or you violate it."

The first speaker at the January 13 meeting was Adam Bisno, a former Mamaroneck High School student who had contacted the Kemper family three years ago when the School Board first proposed moving the Kemper Memorial. He held up the deed to the property and said it “declares this land ‘be maintained in perpetuity as a memorial.’” “Either you uphold [the deed],” he said, “or you violate it.” Excerpts from the Deed

A Win-Win Situation

Most of the other speakers supported the Board’s plan. “I truly believe it can be a win-win situation: the students get a much-needed field and the veterans get an enhanced memorial,” said Blythe Hamer, a mother of three children in the district.

Cauley
Bruce Cauley:"The fallen did not die for a static, never-changing world, but to support a dynamic one in which support for the good was encouraged.”

Former Village of Larchmont Trustee Bruce Cauley also spoke in favor of moving the memorial. Cauley asserted, “The fallen did not die for a static, never-changing world, but to support a dynamic one in which support for the good was encouraged.” He added, “It should not matter when a community wishes to move a memorial so long as the memorialization of the fallen is no less prominent to the living after the move.” Cauley is a former US Navy officer and currently an officer in the Naval Order of the United States, which he described as “one of the country’s oldest organizations which is dedicated to, among other things, preserving and maintaining military memorials.”

Needs of Students Should Come First

Dr. Adrienne Weiss-Harrison, a Larchmont mother of two Mamaroneck High School graduates and the Director of School Health Services in New Rochelle, underscored how valuable athletic activity was to students’ health and well-being. She noted, “Decisions in a school district should be student-centered,” and added, “I sincerely hope the conflict can be resolved with the needs of the children in the community uppermost in everyone’s mind.”

HISTORICAL SOCIETY MEETING

As part of a give and take before the Historical Society on January 8, School Board President Bob Martin and Trustee Alan Parter described the board’s revised plan for the Kemper Memorial and displayed sketches of how the new memorial park might look. Parter noted that the new design would provide three things: a safer entrance, egress and traffic flow for the parking area; an additional varsity size playing field; and a more prominent and newly landscaped memorial park to honor the 99 Larchmont and Mamaroneck veterans who died in World War II.

What About the Deed?

When asked by Fred Baron, President of the Larchmont Historical Society whether the school district had the legal authority to take part of the original Kemper Memorial land for a playing field, Parter maintained that the deed specified that the land be “devoted to public and school uses” and that this “language anticipated more than one use and the possibility of change over time.” He also suggested that the new field could be named after Lt. Kemper.

Baron expressed concern that “once you establish a precedent of swapping land,” 25 years down the road, it could be “moved to behind garbage cans.” Many members were skeptical of Parter’s assurance that “a document could be drawn up to prevent this.”

Cost of Memorial Move

Baron also asked where the money would come from for the project. Parter replied that it would be incorporated into a regular school budget, which is voted on by the community. He expected the cost to be around $1.2 million, including lights, but somewhat more if artificial turf is installed.

Is a New Field Necessary?

Ned Benton, a Historical Society Trustee, inquired about the need for an additional field. Parter replied that “extracurricular activities are important to this Board,” and “active students do better and are happier,” than non-active students. He explained that the student population has increased by 25% over the last decade and participation in athletics by 27%. He noted that the school district owns only two varsity sized fields and 3 other smaller fields. The high school and Hommocks support 30 teams each year, with 246 varsity games and 2000 practices. The schools use 7 other fields that are owned and controlled by the three municipalities, and 70% of play occurs on non-school fields.

Tony’s Nursery and Harbor Island

Tony’s Nursery was suggested as a possible field site, but school officials responded that they had been told the usable area was too small for a varsity field; nevertheless, they welcomed the suggestion and promised to follow up on it.

Harbor Island was also cited as a possible area for a new field, but Martin noted that Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Phil Trifiletti has informed the schools that they “should not count on access to an additional field, should there be one.”

LWV NAUTILUS BREAKFAST

With barely a break, the issue continued to be debated at the League of Women Voters’ Nautilus breakfast the following morning, January 9. School Board member Cecilia Absher outlined the process that started in May, 2003 when the Board reopened the topic with the Kemper family. The revised plan for a newly configured Kemper Memorial was the result of these early meetings.

Is Legal Action Inevitable?

A suggestion was made to pursue a legal resolution as soon as possible, since the two sides appear to be irreconcilable. Anne McAndrews, Village of Larchmont Trustee, cautioned that the legal route could end up in years of appeals, and another participant noted that the school district would need to “win not only in a court of law, but also in the court of public opinion.”

How About Mediation?

Alice Bloom, moderator of the League’s breakfast group, urged the School Board to consider mediation as a way to resolve the issue. Members also reminded the School Board representative that the majority of district residents do not have children in the schools, and alienating this group could impact passage of school budgets.

Field Usage

There was debate over the importance of athletics and the need for an additional field. A mother of children at all three levels of schools noted that the lack of fields affected average players more than elite players, who would have priority with limited field space.

DID YOU KNOW?

Several interesting bits of information emerged at the Historical Society’s meeting: a piece of the original park was taken in order to widen the Boston Post Road; the new design would reduce the number of parking spots in the Post Road lot; the 99 war dead honored by the memorial were not all Mamaroneck High School graduates, as has been previously reported. Historical Society member Bill Byrne clarified that they were all residents of the Mamaroneck School District.

MORE MEETINGS TO COME

Though many attendees of the three meetings expressed a desire to see the issue resolved quickly, they are unlikely to get their wish. Coming up are two major meetings on the topic, the rescheduled discussion between the School Board and the veterans, and the Board’s open community forum on the topic. At this point, no dates have been announced.

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