The Dukes are the crabgrass of the Alexandria School Board," said board member Lou B. Cook before the board voted against leasing more space to the city's baseball team in Cora Kelly Elementary School. "Just when you think you have them under control, they pop up and gobble a little more grass."
"We are not against education," bounced back Joseph H. Berardelli, Alexandria Dukes chairman of the board. "And we have no desire to take over Cora Kelly. We are tired of fighting, too. And we don't like to throw ourselves on the mercy of the School Board."
"The School Board," said City Manager Douglas Harman, after hearing the board's decision, "leaves the city between a rock and a hard place."
It's the same old ball game this spring in Alexandria. And at tonight's School Board meeting, the board will be at bat for another go-round as it again takes up the subject of more space for the Dukes.
In the four years that Alexandria has been home of the Dukes, a minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, not a spring has gone by without a space squabble. This year the major players are:
* The city, which owns the field in Four Mile Run Park where the Dukes play their 70 home games this year, starting April 10;
* The School Board, which controls what goes on at Cora Kelly Elementary School, adjoining the field, and which currently leases four rooms in Cora Kelly to the city, which in turn leases them to the Dukes for use as offices and a locker room;
* The Dukes, a team that last year drew a home-game attendance of 43,000, and which says it is desperate for more space and would like the city to build it an administration building, but would settle for a couple more rooms at Cora Kelly;
* The Cora Kelly PTA, concerned because they "don't think education and professional baseball are compatible," even though the school has six empty classrooms;
* The Alexandria Day Care Center, a new player this year--a city-run facility for 40 children that needs to relocate and has asked about space at Cora Kelly.
The Dukes issue annually is tossed back and forth between the School Board and the City Council. This year's scenario began last month when Eugene Thomas, Dukes president, wrote City Manager Harman, saying that the team needed more space and asking the city to pay for construction of an $80,000 administration building at Four Mile Run Park.
"Every year we have to ask the commissioner of baseball to waive a requirement for the Dukes concerning separate locker rooms for ballplayers and umpires," said Thomas. "Plus, most of our players dress at home and go home after the game to shower because our shower facilties now are so small."
Harman, faced with the city's tight capital budget, suggested that instead of a new building he would ask the School Board to lease two more rooms in Cora Kelly to the Dukes.
The request came up at the board's session March 10.
"It's creeping Dukism," said board member Judy Feaver that evening.
"Cora Kelly is a school we have paid attention to, and that we have serious plans for," said Robert W. Peebles, school superintendent. "It is making progress, gaining parental support, and contributes to the neighborhood. A rumor we are not serious about is that there are plans to close it. . . . The presence of the Dukes in the school arouses anxiety in the minds of the parents and the community and encourages this rumor."
"Education and professional baseball are not compatible," said Ruby Tucker, Cora Kelly PTA president, urging a vote against the Dukes. "We must defend the rights of children."
The board discussed the Dukes and Cora Kelly again at its March 17 meeting. "They have four rooms now," said board member J. Harvey Harrison. "Will they ask for two more next year, and two more the next?"
Dukes representative Berardelli said no. He described the team's conditions at Cora Kelly as "abominable due to overcrowding 50 players into one tiny room."
"We have no desire to take over the school," Beradelli said. "This is ridiculous. But we do have a desire to make maximum use of all public space. . . . I can lay your fears to rest about what we will ask for next year. Nothing."
He also warned that the city could lose its baseball team if it didn't give them more space. "Pittsburgh said they would stop sponsorship if more space is not found," Beradelli said.
But Cook said she feared a backlash from the City Council. "I don't see any reason to antagonize the city at the time of our budget," she said, suggesting instead that the superintendent "set up a fair market price for two extra rooms for the Dukes."
But the board voted 7 to 1 against charging the Dukes for extra space, and Peebles sent a letter to Harman that the vote "in effect" rejected Harman's request for the two extra rooms.
But the city wasn't pleased. Maintaining that the School Board had skirted the real issue--whether to give the Dukes more space, not whether to charge them for space--the City Council last week voted to toss the matter back to the School Board for reconsideration. They also recommended that the day-care center be moved to Cora Kelly, something the School Board has not yet discussed.
Tonight the School Board will consider both these requests--although not happily.
"I felt our original vote was clear enough," said School Board chairman Shirley N. Tyler. "My interpretation was that the board was taking a stand, though it didn't vote directly on the issue itself."
And board member William D. Euille said he will move to table any motion on the Dukes that comes up tonight. "I think our position was clear," Euille said. "I think that while the council admits we have full authority to do what we want, they are asking us to take another look at it, and I think we should not have our hands twisted again. We spend more time talking about baseball than academic environment."
Tyler said the discussion tonight would not be Dukes versus day-care. "I think they are two separate issues," she said. Most board members favor inviting the day-care center to share the school, and Tucker says the PTA also has no problem with the center moving into several of the vacant rooms.
Declining enrollments had closed Cora Kelly from 1976 to 1980, and it's still not at capacity enrollment. Besides those used by the Dukes, several rooms already are used by city-sponsored groups, including an upholstery class and a senior citizens program. With six vacant rooms, the school could give the Dukes two more rooms and still have four for the day-care center or other community uses.
Dukes president Thomas says the baseball team also would be happy to coexist with the day-care center."We have no objections to the day-care," Thomas said. "We are out there with the senior citizens and the upholstery class, and that's no problem. The problem is between the School Board and the City Council.
"The City Council wants the ball club, and the School Board would like to get us out of there."