By MARGIE NETZEL - email@example.com
The sound of the Geneva High School Marching Band plays the soundtrack of Lisa Pucci-Delgado’s fondest memories.
Delgado can close her eyes and see her friends in the top seats of the grandstand at Memorial Field on Eastwood Street. She remembers football games in the mud and slop, and games so cold not even hot chocolate bought at the concession stand could warm her frozen fingers.
Now a personal chef, Delgado has returned to her hometown and is determined to save Memorial Field, even as the Geneva Area City Schools Board of Education has decided to tear it down.
“From being covered head to toe in mud from the field, to band practice, to the concession stand, to watching the homecoming game, practically everyone has a memory of Memorial Field. There are so many things that we remember that warm our hearts and souls and now these memories are fading,” she said.
Delgado has started an online petition at www. change.org (www.change. org/petitions/memorial-field-geneva-ohio-restore-the-field-back-to-original-state-for-any-future-use) in hopes of changing the minds of the school board members. People can leave their electronic signature on the site and leave comments and memories of their days at Memorial Field.
“We have more than 200 signatures now,” she said. “My goal is 1,000. I got more than 60 signatures in the first hour. Anyone can go to Change.org and vote and read all the breathtaking comments people have left about the field.”
The grandstand, donated by the Class of 1975, was destroyed by an arson fire last year. Last month, the Board of Education announced the termination of the field’s land lease with Spire. Last week the board said it will demolish the grandstands, visitor’s bleachers and press box at Memorial Field and remediate the property. The board hopes to collaborate with city of Geneva officials in the maintenance and future use of the land.
School board president David Foote said the district doesn’t have much use for the field anymore, and that the cost of restoring the small stadium would be too great a burden on taxpayers.
Flooding is a problem at the field, and Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars are not available to the district to remediate the water issues.
“Because Memorial Field is in a flood zone, banks and other financial institutions will not finance a loan to fix the property,” he said.
Foote said the field will be remediated into a non-sports facility. Insurance money paid by two insurance claims — $162,000 for the district’s policy and $135,000 for Spire’s policy — is banked in the district’s permanent improvement fund for use in the remediation.
Delgado said the insurance money should be used to restore Memorial Field to its former glory.
“If the school board would really try, between them and Spire, they could get the field restored,” Delgado said. “They could ask local businesses for help and donations of materials and labor. This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky dream. We could restore Memorial Field.”
Foote said the restoration of the field is simply not feasible or responsible, as the insurance money would not even cover the replacement of the burned grandstand.
“Just for the grandstand, it would cost $150 per seat,” he said. “With seating for 3,000 people, that’s $400,000 just for the stands — not the turf or the track or the water problems — and we just don’t have the money.”
Foote said regulations for athletic facilities have changed since the district last used Memorial Field. Geneva’s student athletes now train, practice and play at the state-of-the-art Spire Institute in Harpersfield Township.
“We can’t run a high school track meet on a cinder track anymore,” he said, “and there isn’t enough space for an all-weather track at Memorial Field. Those costs compared to the $20,000 we spent to use the Spire facility, it just makes sense for our students to use Spire.”
Delgado said Spire, which features indoor soccer fields, the largest indoor running track in North America, volleyball courts and a football field dubbed “Eagle Stadium,” is a good place for student athletes to practice and train.
“This is about what Memorial Field means to the community of Geneva and the kids of Geneva,” she said. “The school board says they can’t fix the field because they can’t pass a levy, but from what I have gathered, the levies are failing because the majority of the population is not happy with the decision making that is being done.”
“It’s not just Memorial Field. (The board) really needs to show and prove they care,” she said.
Foote said the potential development and use of the land is undecided, and may be made in collaboration with Geneva city administrators. In preparation for that possible collaboration and for public safety reasons, the grandstand, press box and visitor’s bleachers will be demolished and the hillside graded. The score board will remain at the field. The utilities will be disconnected, but the infrastructure will remain intact, but “capped off” for possible future use, he said.
“This board is working to bring the field back to public use,” Foote said. “We realize this process is taking longer than the public would like to see, but we are working on it.”