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Bremerton School District to take over Legion Field

Dick Ostrander, first vice commander at American Legion Post 68, points out improvements made to Legion Field in the past month. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Dick Ostrander, first vice commander at American Legion Post 68, points out improvements made to Legion Field in the past month.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

The Bremerton School District will take over the management of Legion Field in East Bremerton Feb. 17, ending a 45-year agreement with American Legion Post 68.

While the district, which owns the Sheridan Road baseball diamond, envisions it as part of a Youth Wellness Center planned for the neighboring former Bremerton Junior High School site, American Legion members are protesting the takeover and circulating petitions in an attempt to keep the district from terminating their lease.

“It’s been running fine for 40 years,” said Dick Ostrander, first vice commander and Legion baseball coordinator. “We don’t know why all of a sudden they want to change it.”

But for the district, the change has been a long time coming. An official said part of the reason is dissatisfaction with how the field has been maintained. The result has been both sides accusing the other of failing to properly care for the field.

The lease was signed in 1966 when the field was built and has been used by baseball teams across the community, including Bremerton High School, the Legion baseball program and, until last fall, Olympic College. Following an inspection in November, a 90-day notice was issued to the Legion, saying the lease would be terminated due to its deteriorating condition, which district officials said caused Olympic College to switch to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds baseball field.

For several years, the Legion has offered to pay $2,000 per year to the district to cover maintenance and utility expenses, but district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said the Legion has paid $1,800 during the past five years. As a result, maintenance duties were handed back to the Legion last summer.

Meanwhile, Legion members say the district’s maintenance of the field was inadequate and that its neglect has created a big job for them as they try to refurbish the field before baseball season starts. While the district did basic groundskeeping, it didn’t maintain the dirt infield and the Legion paid thousands of additional dollars to keep the field usable, said Ostrander, who bought a utility vehicle to comb the infield.

“We put an awful lot of care into it,” Post Commander John Correia said, adding that the field is better off under Legion management. “We have the experience to maintain that field.”

He said the district’s claim of neglect was unwarranted, adding that he never heard any specific criticisms.

“If I had seen a list of complaints that it’s been deteriorating, I’d certainly entertain it,” he said.

However, the field’s condition was cited as a reason the Olympic College baseball program switched to the Fairgrounds field, starting with the Fall 2010 season.

Ryan Parker, head coach of the Olympic College baseball team, said the primary reason it switched fields is because the Fairgrounds venue is better for recruiting purposes, with more amenities and a more collegiate sports quality. The secondary reason was the field’s poorer condition, but Parker said the blame for that is more on the teams who used it and didn’t take care of it than the Legion.

“There’s no way you can put all the blame on the Legion,” Parker said, adding that the Bremerton High School team never helped maintain the field. “We got tired of doing all the work and trying to keep that field clean up.”

Olympic College has split its time between the two fields, practicing at one and playing games at another, on-and-off for decades, Parker said. But for the three years before last fall, both practices and games were played at Legion Field.

The Legion has been making improvements to the field in the last month, with the help of players and parents of the Blaze baseball team, which draws players from throughout western Washington for its 16U and 18U baseball teams. The program, preparing for its second season this year, wants to make Legion Field its home location and has participated in Saturday work parties. Changes so far include planting sod in bare spots in the infield and killing weeds on the warning track. Volunteers have also built pathways from the bench to home plate and eliminated moss and weeds beneath the bleachers. They are also building a new bullpen, to be ready for this season, and refurbishing the batting cages. Businesses have donated supplies and labor.

“We’re just going out there, getting dirty, trying to make this a place that the city of Bremerton and Legion would be proud of,” said Erik Boley, director of Blaze Baseball.

Boley joined Legion members at a January Bremerton School Board meeting speaking in defense of the field, but said this week he and the program remain neutral on the lease conflict. He wants the teams to play at the field regardless of who manages it.

Ostrander, on the other hand, said he is not sure whether the Legion program teams would still play there this year when the district takes it over, saying the two teams would have to go through the district to schedule time to play there.

The district and City of Bremerton hope to eventually turn the property into a Youth Wellness Center, which would include a Kitsap Pumas soccer field on the campus as well as a Boys and Girls Club teen center and district central kitchen. The teen center and kitchen are currently scheduled to open in Fall 2012, Glaser said.

“We have big visions for what will be happening with that Youth Wellness Center,” Glaser said.

The field would still be available for community use.

The lease ends later this month. Legion members have gathered about 50 signatures and hope to submit the petition to the School Board in the coming weeks.

The district, however, will not change its mind, Glaser said.

“It’s not a matter of whether they can prove anything to us, we are taking those fields over,” she said. “It’s not something we are going to change our mind on. We’ve done as much as we possibly can, waited as long as we possibly could.”

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