We’ve just completed another high school, Babe Ruth, and American Legion season in Brattleboro with the grandstand at Tenney Field closed to spectators.
This season when I’ve been at the field, I have heard many fans, both local and out-of-town, frequently asking why the grandstand is still closed.
The answer is a long-running battle between Brattleboro Union High School District #6, the owners of the field, and a small group of local fans that want to see a piece of southern Vermont baseball history preserved.
The school district maintains that the structure is unsafe for use, and closed off access to the structure for the past two years. However, the field’s groundskeepers have been able to use the storage area under the grandstand during this time.
The people that call themselves Team Tenney, the protectors of the grandstand, say that it can be restored and that they can do it with private funds and volunteer labor.
Team Tenney got a boost last month when the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation added the Tenney Field grandstand to the State Register of Historic Places.
Making the case
Working with state architectural historian Devin Colman, Team Tenney provided the data needed to make a case for the historic significance of the site.
Here’s the narrative that was included with the application:
“Occupying the original site of the Valley Fairgrounds, the Stolte Memorial Field athletic complex was constructed in 1938-39 using labor provided by the Works Progress Administration. The complex consisted of a football field, running track, changing facilities, a baseball field, and a wooden grandstand. The wooden grandstand burned down in 1946 and was promptly replaced in 1947 with a new grandstand built of steel and concrete. In 1996, the complex was re-dedicated to Carl A. Tenney, who coached the varsity baseball team from 1971-1996.
“For over 70 years the community has watched baseball games ranging from High School, Babe Ruth, American Legion, and Semi-Pro from the grandstand. At least 12 future Major League Baseball athletes played here, including two future Hall of Famers: Robin Roberts and Carlton Fisk.
“The grandstand is one of three large-scale structures of its kind left in the state, the others being located at Centennial Field in Burlington (1922) and Recreation Field in Montpelier (1940). It retains all aspects of integrity and is significant under Criterion A for its role in the recreational history of Brattleboro and under Criterion C for its architectural and engineering significance.”
In an email to The Commons, Team Tenney spokesman Adam Waite said the historical designation “supports the goals of preserving and restoring the Tenney Field grandstand” and that “it will also be helpful in efforts to raise funds for restoration of the grandstand. While we have been engaged in these pursuits for some time now, we feel that historical designation will help push them into a new phase.”
A repair plan
According to an engineering study prepared in 2009 for BUHS, and revised last year, it would cost $450,000 to repair the grandstand and make it handicapped accessible per the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA).
Team Tenney contends that the work could be done for less money.
On March 29, 2018, Team Tenney representatives made a proposal to the BUHS #6 Finance Committee to repair the grandstand to have it ready for the 2018 season.
The labor and materials were to be donated, with local contractors Dave Manning and Mike Renaud as the planning and oversight team.
The volunteers wanted to repair and paint the grandstand backstop, replace up to one third of the planks which serve as seating, install two handrails down the center of the two central walkways, pour concrete on the front walkway to raise it to the level of the first step of the seating area to allow for wheelchairs to turn around, construct pressure-treated wooden stairs over the existing concrete stairs on the east side of the grandstand; and construct a pressure-treated ramp over the existing concrete stairs on the west side.
On April 2, the BUHS #6 Finance Committee voted down the proposal, 3-1. Team Tenney then asked the full committee to consider the proposal. No action was taken.
The committee has yet to come out with a formal proposal addressing the grandstand’s fate. There is a proposal to remove it so that the baseball infield can be pushed back enough so that it no longer juts out into the portion of Tenney Field used for soccer and field hockey in the fall.
That infield cutout means the field is not usable for playoff games, according to Vermont Principals’ Association standards, forcing the Brattleboro teams to play games on the road.
It’s a rather drastic solution to a rather simple problem. If I were to add my two cents as a Windham Southeast taxpayer, I would advocate putting an artificial surface on Natowich Field and move the BUHS soccer and field hockey games there. But that’s a story for another day.
Unfortunately, the grandstand’s historic landmark status does not prevent it from being torn down. If the BUHS #6 board wished to do so, demolition could begin this fall, but so far nothing is in the works, and there is growing sentiment to give Team Tenney a chance to see if it can raise the money.
If the school district still wants to tear the grandstand down, it will have to find a way to pay for it. Because of the newfound historic status, the district would not be able to use state or federal money to do the demolition.
Just the same, the school district is going before the Brattleboro Development Review Board on Aug. 20, at 7 p.m., at the Municipal Center on Main Street, to request site plan and local Act 250 approval to do work at Tenney Field.
According to the DRB agenda, the district seeks “to extend existing athletic field to allow for regulation field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse fields; site work includes grading, new fencing, adjusting storm drains, constructing a new shotput pad and discus pad, and landscaping.”
If you’re interested in the fate of the Tenney Field grandstand, this could be an important meeting to attend.
Team Tenney has set up a Facebook page — Save the Grandstand — where it is soliciting testimonials and memories about the field and the grandstand.
If you care to make a donation toward the grandstand renovation, visit donorbox.org/save-the-grand-stands-at-tenney-field.
• Just before I was finishing up this week’s column, I got the news that cancer claimed the life of Ben Underhill of Brattleboro (See Milestones, page C3).
He was 59 when he died on Aug. 12, and had been battling Multiple Myeloma since 2003.
Battle is a word that gets thrown around carelessly when it comes to cancer, but Ben was dealt a particularly nasty version of myeloma and it took more strength and good humor than most of us will ever have for him to beat back the disease and live life as fully as possible.
Ben crammed a lot of living into his 59 years, as well as a lot of community service. He passionately loved baseball — not just the Red Sox, his beloved team, but baseball at every level. As a coach and mentor to so many young people in this town, his memory will live on in the lives of everyone he helped out over the years.
In June, the cancer finally started taking its toll and Ben decided to end treatment and begin hospice care.
“The latest chemo for the sarcomas that I’ve seemed to acquire haven’t really worked and are causing me other issues,” he wrote to me a few weeks ago. “I’ve been fighting the myeloma and now sarcoma for 15 years and I know when it’s time to stop.”
Ben may have had to leave the game early, but he is doing so amid the cheers of his adopted community that he loved so well.
And so it is fitting that, instead of a funeral, there’s going to be a baseball-themed party and cookout on Aug. 19, at 5:30 p.m., at the Kiwanis shelter at Living Memorial Park.
Show up with your Red Sox gear on, and toast the memory of a great guy.
Then, when you get home, start writing some checks to the charities listed in his obituary, and carry Ben’s memory forward.
Senior bowling roundup
• Team 2 (54-21) now has a 10-game lead over its rivals after last week’s action in the Brattleboro Senior Bowling League. Team 1 (44-31) has moved into second place, while Team 4 and Team 3 (both 41-34) are tied for third place. Team 7 (40-35) is now in fourth place, followed by Team 9 (38-37), Team 6 (37-38), Team 8 (36-39) and Team 5 (33-42)
Carole Frizzell had the women’s high handicap game (256), while Mary Parliman had the women’s high handicap series (674). Dick Cooke had the men’s high handicap game (255) and series (677). Team 1 had the high team handicap game (889) and series (2,507).
In scratch scoring, Shirley Aiken (516) Warren Corriveau (585), Jack Carlson (551), and Jerry Dunham (522) each rolled a 500-plus series. Frizzell (202) and Corriveau (220) were the only bowlers with 200-plus games.
Pool closes on Sunday
• The Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department says that the Living Memorial Park pool will be closed for the season on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 5 p.m.