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Kemper Memorial

(December 10, 2003) The Mamaroneck School Board and the Kemper family have each provided the Larchmont Gazette with their respective opinions on the future of the Kemper Memorial. These columns represent the views of the respective authors and not of the Larchmont Gazette. (For more on the issue, see Moving Kemper Memorial Back on School Drawing Board, Larchmont Historical Society Supports Preservation of Kemper Memorial and Letters to the Editor)

From the Mamaroneck School Board

As members of the Board of Education, we recognize that the issue of relocating the Kemper Memorial is an emotional one for many people in the community. It is for this very reason that the Board has been pursuing a deliberate process, initially meeting with representatives of the Kemper family and now meeting with various groups in the community, to work through and respond to the many issues raised by this proposal.

Board Proposal
A Board proposal would turn the football field, add a soccer field (right) and create a deeper park (center) as large as the existing one (dark lines).

As a school board we are entrusted with providing for the education of our students, which includes, in addition to academic concerns, extra curricular activities, athletic opportunities and addressing issues of safety. We believe the proposal we have been discussing with the Kemper family and the community addresses the critical need for playing fields and improved safety while honoring the sacrifice of the Mamaroneck High School students who died in WWII. However, as has been made clear on numerous occasions, we have not as yet made any decision about whether we will move forward on this proposal. Our deliberations remain on going and all viable options will continue to be considered.

Unfortunately, it appears from the article in the Sound & Town Report, written by Richard Cantor, that the Kemper family has now reversed its previous willingness to discuss possible alternatives that would involve a repositioning of the monument to a different section of the donated land. Based on the article, it seems that the Kemper family’s non-negotiable position is that the field issue gets resolved with some other plan, or not at all. This is very surprising and disappointing given the numerous discussions with the family over the past year in an attempt to come to an amicable solution. The School Board has met several times with the Kemper family. We have shared alternative site plans, discussed the pressing needs of the district and have attempted to come up with a proposal that balanced all of these concerns. It was our belief that, if no other location for a varsity sized field were found, the family would work with the district on repositioning the monument, re-landscaping the area, planning a rededication ceremony and possibly naming the new field after Richard Kemper.

In response to the Kemper family’s request that the monument not be moved unless there was no other alternative, the school board investigated many alternative plans, several at the suggestion of the Kemper family. We met with the elected officials in all three municipalities to explore the possibility of a varsity-sized field on community owned property. At this time, there is simply no other plan that provides an additional playing field. Although there has been discussion of an additional community field being built at Harbor Island, those plans remain very tentative, would not give the school district control of the field, also involve moving a war memorial and are years away from implementation.

It was also suggested that we install a soccer field in the center of our running track at the high school. Although there is already a baseball field inside the track, we explored this alternative with our architects and found that there is not enough land to put another field without overlaying a soccer field onto the infield of the baseball field. More importantly, this configuration does not provide an additional field because the two fields could not be used simultaneously.

School Board Memorial Proposal
Board's proposed repositioning of the monument

The board has proposed repositioning the Kemper monument, as shown in the artist’s rendering, about 40 yards* east of its current location, which would maintain the monument on the land donated to the district by Mr. Kemper. This proposal was crafted in response to several meetings with the Kemper family in which the board listened very carefully to what was important about the Kemper memorial area and the donated land. The proposal incorporates some of their suggestions. This location can enhance the memorial area while using some of the donated land for an athletic field. The new memorial area would be the same size as the original donated land, about .59 acres. Any mature trees on the donated land that can be saved will be saved and additional landscaping would be done. A rededication ceremony would commemorate the meaning of the monument in its new location. This proposal would honor the students on the monument, would engage the current school and greater community and would make the history of those memorialized on the monument more prominent.

The proposal currently under consideration would also keep what has come to be known as the “Korean War Memorial” with the existing Memorial Field after reconfiguration. This memorial stone was a gift to the school district from the family of the late Lt. Owen Norton of Larchmont and the graduating classes of 1946, 1947 and 1948 in honor of “our men and women who served in World War II and in the armed forces during the Korean conflict.” The stone is actually the dedicating plaque that identifies the current field as the Mamaroneck High School Memorial Field. If the district’s proposed plan were to be implemented, it is only appropriate that this plaque remain with the current Memorial Field after repositioning.

Some have alleged that the proposed configuration would present safety issues and that the two fields could not be used simultaneously. This is simply not true. To the contrary, the proposed plan would be safer than the current field configuration and improve safety for cars and buses on the high school campus. Currently, footballs often get kicked onto Boston Post Road when they are kicked at the goal posts. The rotation of the field will cause fewer such incidents, not more. Both fields can absolutely be used simultaneously. It may be hard to tell from an architectural drawing, but the spacing between the two fields is more than adequate to accommodate simultaneous activities and fans.

Kemper family statements imply that the proposal under discussion in some way demeans the memorial by encroaching on the deeded land and has accused this Board of Education of not appreciating the loss of loved ones signified by the memorial. To this point we respectfully disagree. It is our belief that the proposed plan holds the memory of the young men and women who gave their lives in protection of our freedoms and liberty in World War II in the highest regard.

We believe very strongly that our proposed actions are not in violation of the deed that gave ownership of this land to the school. Our proposed actions would preserve the monument on the property and would enhance and beautify the memorial area. Our students will continue to be able to learn about the values and ideals for which these students sacrificed their lives. Our students will continue to be able to connect to their history by visiting and learning about the memorial and participating in an annual essay contest. The community veterans’ groups will continue to be able to hold ceremonies at the memorial while standing on the original dedicated land. Our community will be able to continue to teach our children about their heritage and history.


* figure corrected on January 7, 2004


 

The Kemper Family Responds

We sincerely wish that there were some easy and amicable way to convey the message to the Mamaroneck School Board and have the members understand why their plans to encroach upon the Richard M. Kemper Memorial Park are ill conceived and wrong. It is not the way to solve its alleged need for a new soccer field. Nor is it proper for the Board to launch a very public campaign to try to convince the PTA and parents of its position by presenting false and incomplete information.

Now that the School Board members and the Superintendent of Schools are fully aware of the history of the Richard M. Kemper Memorial Park, the purposes for which it was donated, and the provisions of the deed, we believe it is morally reprehensible for them to pursue their plans to defile the memorial by encroaching upon the land in any way.

It cannot be repeated often enough that it is the land that is the memorial, the trees upon it a living tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our nation, the monument but an improvement. One cannot “move” the memorial; the land is the memorial. It was the land that was purchased and dedicated to enshrine the memory of our fallen veterans. It is their place. It is also a place that lives in the hearts of many in our community. Its heritage and its history should be remembered and respected and taught to our children. Over the years the School Board has lost sight of all of this and permitted the Park to be both physically and spiritually neglected. It should learn from its past mistakes and take actions to correct them. Instead it is moving headstrong 180° in the wrong direction.

Kemper Memorial
Current view of the monument

To many the Park is sacred. It embodies not only the memories of our veterans but also the values and ideals for which they sacrificed their lives. In this way the Park is a far more valuable asset than another playing field. It is also a rare and wonderful gift, which could be used to give all students a visceral connection to our country’s history and their heritage of freedom, but only if the Mamaroneck School Board understands its value and sees to it that the Park is incorporated into the School’s programs. This is something the Board has never done.

It was our family that instituted an essay contest to focus students and teachers on the meaning and importance of the Park. And to this day our family has underwritten 100% of the costs for the annual essay contest, just as our family underwrote 100% of all the costs associated with donating the Park in 1945. For its part, the Board and the Superintendent of Schools continued to neglect the Park throughout the years to the point they said they did not even know it existed. That is how little they paid attention to it. And because of their inattention, many in the community also did not know it existed.

But the students know it exists. All one has to do is read the wonderful student essays about the Park to learn how important the Memorial has become to them and how it has helped many to reshape their values. Parents would do well to follow the students’ example and learn from them. Something else parents should learn to do is to be more critical of the information they are spoon fed from the School Board. The Board is spending tens of millions of dollars of tax payers’ money and all of it is not being spent wisely. So a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. Its plans to encroach on the Kemper Memorial Park are one example of a big mistake.

Unbeknownst to the community there are a number of serious problems with the Board’s plans and a very steep price tag. All of this the Board is withholding from the public. The Board has done a very poor job of researching and addressing these important issues. Not only would its plan cut the Kemper Park in half and destroy over thirty mature trees that were planted as a living memorial to the veterans, essentially destroying the character of the Park; but also it would destroy the Korean Memorial, the memorial field house, the memorial stands, and the memorial score board – all of which were donated to the school. Does a million dollars of tax payers’ money sound like a steep price to pay for a playing field? It does to most people! When all is said and done the Bo ard’s plan may cost even more than that. And where is that money going to come from? The voters did not approve it, because it was removed from the last school bond.

But there are significant practical problems as well. The Board’s plans create very unsafe conditions in a number of respects. Placing the football field adjacent to the Boston Post Road will inevitably lead to balls being kicked into the street, hitting cars directly or bouncing in front of them. Drivers slamming on their breaks or swerving to avoid the balls will inevitably lead to accidents, many of which could result in serious injuries or fatalities. That is the opinion of the police.

Then there is the problem of crowd control. The Village Police feel it is inviting trouble, potentially explosive, to seat the fans from rival teams on the same side of the field, as called for in the Board’s plan. The potential for fights to break out and people to be injured, including police officers, is a real concern.

Another problem with the Board’s plan is that it precludes simultaneous games from being played, due to the proximity of the fields. In the first place soccer balls which are kicked out of bounds frequently would often intrude on the football field disrupting games and potentially causing injuries. Even with the installation of a fence, this would occur unless the fence were over 60 feet high, which is impractical. High school athletes are capable of easily kicking balls over 30 yards (90 feet) in the air. No one is going to erect a fence that high, and to do so would create even more dangerous conditions in tempting kids to climb it. Also with two simultaneous games there would be no way to accommodate the fans. So if it wasn’t possible to have simultaneous games, field utilization would be sharply curtailed. It doesn’t make much sense to put two fields so close together, if they only could be used one at a time. It would be far better to put a second field far enough away so both fields could be used all of the time.

Kemper Alternative Proposal
A Kemper Family plan would add a soccer field in the track oval (top left) and move the baseball diamond to the Post Road (bottom right).

It just so happens that there is a great deal of good news in that regard. Contrary to what the School Board has been saying, there are actually a number of better places to locate a new soccer field. One is in the center of the track, where a soccer field fits beautifully and a second is in Harbor Island, where one is already planned by the Village of Mamaroneck. Both locations would cost only a fraction of what the Board’s plan would cost, both avoid all of the safety issues, and both would enable simultaneous games to be played. So either alternative would be superior and neither would encroach upon the Richard M. Kemper Memorial Park or any of the other memorials. That is what is known in the vernacular as a win-win situation!

In the final analysis, the Park is an asset that is sacred to many and which serves the entire community throughout the year and not just a select group of student athletes who have other fields available. The more one examines the Mamaroneck School Board’s plans, the more thoughtless and insensitive they become from every aspect. The School Board’s plans are a bad idea that have taken on a dynamic of their own, because the egos of too many board members and the superintendent have gotten caught up in them. And if the Board persists in proceeding with its plans to break its commitment with our family, just who is likely to donate to the school in the future if they fear the Board might break its commitment again and destroy their gift as well?

Wouldn’t it be far more fitting for board members to be thinking about encouraging teachers and students to utilize the Memorial Park and to consider possibly expanding the Park physically to honor the victims of 9-11 instead of cutting it in half? What do they think the reaction would be if they told our current troops in Afghanistan and Iraq today about their intentions? Maybe if their own children were in the armed forces or they lost a loved one in combat, they would begin to understand why so many people in the community are so angry and upset with their proposed travesty.

No one wants to deny young people access to athletics, but that does not mean that more soccer fields should be the highest priority nor that they should be permitted to take priority over all other land use. And in the case of the Kemper Park there are clearly other alternatives and better alternatives. The School Board’s plan would be a tragic mistake. That’s ok so far, because no harm has been done yet. It has been prevented from implementation. It is time to move on with better ideas. All the soccer moms can be happy and so can the veterans, and the Board can live up to the spirit and the wording of the deed, rather than embarrassing itself and the community in court and in the press, rather than continuing to waste tax payer’s money fighting us in court. And, finally, the souls of our veterans can once more rest in peace.

The Kemper Family