Final flight

Citing costs and safety, the Village of Monroe plans to get rid of the F-86L Sabre jet in ‘Airplane Park’

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— The days are numbered for the F-86L Sabre jet which sits on its grassy tarmac in the rear of what’s known as Airplane Park in Monroe.

The aircraft will soon be taken on a departing flatbed flight to its final destination, which the Village of Monroe expects will be determined by the Air Force, its true owner.

It comes down to money.
Because of the significant costs associated with repairing and maintaining the plane, combined with the village’s recent decision to purchase the decagon-shaped gazebo and its desire to be fiscally prudent, officials have contacted the Air Force and asked it to take the airplane back.

If the Air Force doesn’t want it, the village will follow Air Force instructions on how to dispose of it.

“We have to watch how we spend dollars,” Mayor James Purcell said Monday. “We want to ship the plane back to the government. That plane’s been there (in the back corner of the park) for about eight years like that (in disrepair). The cost to repair the plane would cost the village too much. Right now, we have no takers for the plane. It’s owned by the U.S. Air Force. We did get estimates to rehabilitate the plane and the costs are quite extensive. “

Financial decision
Those costs are an estimated $36,000 to $46,000 to put the plane back into the “pristine condition it was 50 years ago,” Purcell said. And that excludes the ongoing maintenance and security costs that would be needed afterward.

Purcell said the board wishes it had the resources to keep the plane and understands its decision will not sit well with some residents who consider the airplane to be a long-term symbol in the village.

But at a time when municipalities have limited available resources, the mayor said, the village board opted to spend money on the new $17,000 gazebo. He said the board believed many more people would benefit from using that new structure for any reason - to read, rest or socialize - during a visit to the village.

“You have to make a financial decision at the end of the day,” said Purcell. “Irene (Conklin, a village trustee) pressed for the gazebo and the board made the decision to go with the gazebo. There’s a larger (public) benefit in the use of the gazebo versus the plane.”

The board’s decision to get rid of the plane became public when Conklin posted a blog comment on The Photo News’ Web site, after stories appeared in last week’s edition about the installation of the gazebo and the 50th anniversary of the plane in the park.

Conklin later referred comment to Purcell.

“It’s also a large insurance liability to the village,” said Purcell, noting the plane is an eyesore. “Everybody climbs on it and it’s been vandalized. We put up temporary fences to keep people away, but the fences keep getting torn down. It’s basically sitting there until the government takes it back. We will have to get more information from the government of what we can do with it if they don’t take it. We hope to hear from them within 90 days. Our window (of time) is 90 to 120 days.”

The jet came from the former Utica-Rome Air Force Base in upstate Rome in August 1963 as a monument to the men who fought and died in the Korean War. Four Monroe residents, including Sgt. Ford Dally and Mayor Jay Stahl, helped transport the plane with a tractor and trailer donated by local businesses.

Air Force volunteers stationed at Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh helped to reassemble the jet. They added a children’s slide and placed it in the park as a major part of the playground area.

The slide and the jet’s nose cone are long gone. Graffiti is visible on its rusted fuselage which once gleamed in silver with red accents.

Several attempts have been by volunteers to restore the plane, most recently in 2009 by a group of Marines and members of the Cornerstone Masonic Temple Lodge No. 711 to honor Dally, who was a longtime lodge member.

“There were volunteers from Stewart working on the plane, but then they got shipped out and their work was vandalized,” said Purcell. “Someone would have to start all over. It’s a real safety hazard now.”

It’s not known if those two groups are aware of the village’s decision to get rid of the aircraft.

‘A chronic issue’
But Purcell said the board remains open to the idea of the public undertaking a fund-raising effort to raise at least $50,000 to keep the plane in Monroe.

However, the money would need to raised quickly.

The money would be used for restoration costs and to install a concrete pad as a permanent base for the plane. Money would also be needed for ongoing maintenance and security costs. Purcell said it would then become a monument in the village, not something kids would play on.

“There have been few attempts to raise money that have not come into fruition on a volunteer basis,” he said. “When you added in all the costs of the plane, board made the financial decision to put up the gazebo.”

Separately, Purcell said board has been talking about ways to revitalize the entire park.

The “airplane” portion of the part was named to honor Dally. However, Purcell said, Airplane Park is really a part of the larger Crane Park, which includes the two ponds and surrounding land.

“We have some ideas of what do in the park when the plane is gone, but we have to raise the revenue,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the details right now. That plane has been sitting like that in its deteriorated state for nearly eight years. The public needs to know that. It’s gone through two and a half mayors. It’s been a chronic issue to get it rehabilitated.”

- Nancy Kriz

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