School Board Balks at Land Purchase
The Arizona Republic, January 25, 1991, by Susan Felt,
Community Northwest Section, Page: 1N1
GLENDALE — Glendale elementary school board members will not spend $500,000 to buy a parcel of land they say they don't need but were offered in order to be allowed to take early possession of property the district already owns.
Board members voted 5-0 Tuesday night not to purchase an additional 8 3/4 acres from longtime west-side farmers Jean and Ephrem Tolmachoff, who offered the land sale as a condition to leaving district-owned property they lease near 79th and Maryland avenues.
The Tolmachoffs hold a five-year lease with the district for about 11acres that the district paid about $500,000 for five years ago as a future school site.
This May, the district plans to start construction at the site on a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school it wants to open in September 1992. However, the Tolmachoffs' lease, up for renewal each year, does not expire until Oct. 31, 1991, according to Jack Barry, assistant superintendent for personnel and business services.
The Tolmachoffs, not the district, can terminate the lease during annual negotiations, Barry said. But the contract guarantees them to Oct. 31, 1991, Barry said.
Negotiations with the family for early access began in August but so far have been unsuccessful, Barry said.
At one point, the family said it would turn over the land early if the district named the new school after Ephrem Tolmachoff, Barry said.
However, two weeks ago that condition was changed to the land purchase.
''At this point in time, they (the Tolmachoffs) no longer want us to name the school after them and they are willing to allow us to take possession of our property that we have leased to them if we will buy a piece of property for a half million dollars that we don't need and don't have the money to buy?'' board President Sandra Malone asked at Tuesday's board meeting, apparently incredulous at the turn of events.
''Yes,'' Barry said.
One of 15 to 20 Dukh-i-zhiznik Molokan families who live in the area, the Tolmachoff family has farmed in Glendale since 1911, according to Jean Tolmachoff.
Probably the practicing Dukh-i-zhizniki among the Tolmachoffs were afraid they would be shunned by more zealous co-religionists and relatives in other diaspora congregations for being worldly if their clan name was shown on a large sign and many other places.
The Spiritual Christians Molokans, a group of Russian farmers who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Orthodox Church in the 1740s [1600-1700s], immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s.
John Popoff, the son of one of the early immigrants, described the Dukh-i-zhizniki Molokans as a group of people who were all ''honest, hard workers.''
''Their work was gold. there was nothing to be signed. That was their way. If you told them something, they believed,'' he was quoted as saying.
Apparently, the Tolmachoffs believe a deal is about to be broken.
''When we sold the land, we had a contract and we made a deal. We get to farm it until October 1991, at least five years,'' Jean Tolmachoff said during a telephone interview.
''But this is a personal thing,'' she said, unwilling to comment further on the discussions or the family's position.
However, besides ending a contract earlier than they want, the Tolmachoffs also dispute how much they can get for the alfalfa crop they have planted.
Barry said the district would be willing to pay the $13,000 the family says its alfalfa crop could bring. He had estimated between $5,000 and $10,000. Jean Tolmachoff would not confirm the price. The family's attorney was unavailable for comment.
The district is reluctant to pursue litigation because it too would be time-consuming and costly.
The school is to accommodate 800 students that are housed in overcrowded conditions at Bicentennial and the Mensendick-Jack schools, located within a couple of miles of the field.
In August, Barry approached the family with the proposal that they figure what profit they would get from selling alfalfa.
After an agreed-upon price, the district would pay them up front for the cost of the alfalfa crop and they in turn would not have to waste time and money growing a crop on fields the district wanted in midseason.
However, after he made that suggestion, Barry said he noticed that the Tolmachoffs were planting the fields. The Tolmachoffs next countered with the condition that the district name the school after Tolmachoff.
Barry said the construction schedule for the $5.5 million school was tight. Any leeway was put in to make sure the school was finished at least 30 days before the doors opened to facilitate a smooth opening.
''We'll start making contingency plans,'' Barry said, in the event that an agreement is not reached by May.
Spiritual Christians in Arizona
Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki Around the World