HCCSC superintendent clarifies board’s Kriegbaum Field filing

Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.
Jami Craft

Superintendent Randy Harris fronted the regular meeting of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees on Monday, March 11, by reading a statement concerning the legal proceeding involving Kriegbaum Field.

The school corporation, eager to clarify rumors, speculation and misinformation about the board’s decision to file a lawsuit to “clean up” the title of the property donated by John P. and Anna Kriegbaum in 1927, reiterated its reasons in the statement.

“The legal proceeding is asking the court to confirm HCCSC owns the land,” Harris read. “The land was originally deeded to the Huntington City School, which has not existed for over 50 years. In 1964, when the city and the township schools were abolished and consolidated into the Huntington County Community School Corporation, an affidavit was filed in 1968 with the county auditor transferring the Huntington City School real estate to HCCSC. The School Reorganization Act of 1959 also provided that the real estate was transferred to the new consolidated school.”

However, Harris went on, while HCCSC has had exclusive control and ownership over Kriegbaum Field since 1964, no official deed of record was filed in the Huntington County Recorder’s Office stating that HCCSC owns the ground.

Although the Kriegbaums donated the land with stipulations that required the school corporation to give it back if they were not followed, Harris said there is no deed that requires HCCSC to give the land back to the original owner. The statement adds the 1927 restriction only applied to the now-defunct Huntington City School.

“Ninety-two years has created a lot of uncertainty over the title of Kriegbaum Field and this needs to be resolved,” Harris said. “Like any landowner, HCCSC wants these real estate and title matters to be cleaned up – one way or another – so that the board can make fiscally sound planning and strategic decisions concerning the land it has owned for over 50 years.”

School attorney Joe Wiley explained the legal proceeding is necessary to determine who the proper Kriegbaum heirs are, who might have rights under the questionable 1927 deed restriction.

“Whether we like it or not, a quiet title lawsuit action is how you do it, because it’s to determine who are the heirs,” he said. “As the statement reflects, the heirs are not necessarily the descendants. … The quiet title action is the way that the Indiana Legislature has said how we do have transparency and how we do find out how the heirs are, and resolve this issue. Unfortunately, it does involve a lawsuit.”

Two people addressed the board with their concerns about the lawsuit. Mike Stetzel, of Warren, said the deed should have been settled in 1968, adding it is “not Mr. Kriegbaum’s fault.”

“It probably should be grandfathered through because the school board didn’t do nothing with the original deal,” he said. “Mr. Kriegbaum, the way I see it, for 90 years, or his heirs, kept his word and the school board is the one that wants to break the contract. …

“You would take the land, that he is nice enough to let you use, for 90 years, you’ll take it over, he doesn’t get the land, he doesn’t get anything for it, not even a penny. It just doesn’t set right with a lot of people that he’s left out.”

Stetzel suggested the school corporation put a baseball field on part of the site and keep it in use for athletic purposes.

Another speaker, Joey Tackett, of Huntington, said the issue has been an emotional one for him, calling the board’s action “shady.” He referenced a “Save Kriegbaum” Facebook page he had seen, and said it isn’t right to get rid of the athletic field.

“I think that you have to stick to the contract,” he said. “I also think the public needs to get more involved. … I honestly think you guys should pull out of the lawsuit until you get more feedback.”

John Kriegbaum, of Marion, a grandson of John Philip Kriegbaum, was in attendance during the meeting but did not address the board.
However, Board Member Kevin Yarger issued an emphatic invitation to the community to contact their school board representative or the HCCSC administration with their thoughts and concerns over the issue.

“Anybody that has any question about this, feel free to contact us. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it,” he said. “Information on Facebook is extremely misleading. Call the source. We’ll be more than happy to talk to you anytime, anybody.”

In another item before the board, Jami Craft was introduced as the new principal of Roanoke Elementary School.

Craft is currently the dean of students at Huntington North High School. Harris said she began her career with HCCSC in 2005, teaching at Salamonie Elementary School and later moved to Riverview Middle School before landing at Huntington North, where she has served as dean for the last seven years.

“Jami’s excellent leadership abilities and organizational skills, I think, are going to serve the students, staff, parents and community at Roanoke very, very well,” Harris said. “Talking to her, she is excited about her next challenge at Roanoke.”

Craft echoed her excitement for the promotion as she addressed the board about construction updates for the new Roanoke school building.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” she told the board. “I had a chance to start my adventure in education as a student at Roanoke Elementary a long, long time ago, and I’m really excited to go back there and lead the students and help lead the students and the staff, and work with Roanoke families.”

Craft spent Tuesday, March 12, getting acquainted with the staff at Roanoke Elementary. She will officially begin her new post on July 1.

Also among agenda items, the board heard a report from Transportation Director Vanessa Fields on the state of the corporation’s transportation.

The board also unanimously approved the purchase of two new vehicles, with members Matt Roth and Tim Allen absent. One of the vehicles, a Sprinter van for the Technology Department will be purchased from Crain Ford for $24,127 and the second, a dump truck chassis F550 to be purchased from City Ford in the amount of $44,406.50.

The board also OK’d paying classified staff retroactively for two days that school was closed due to extremely cold temperatures, Jan. 30 and 31.
Also, the board approved the advertising of bids to demolish the Lancaster Elementary school building, since no buyer was found for the property.

Skipping a second meeting in March because of spring break, the next school board meeting will be held Monday, April 8, at 7 p.m. at Salamonie Elementary School.