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County, city task force makes progress on potential Boones Creek athletic facility partnership

Zach Vance • Updated Nov 6, 2017 at 9:29 PM

It’s rare seeing Johnson City and Washington County officials collaborate together, but when both sides share a common goal, the results can be gratifying. 

The common goal Monday night was how Johnson City and Washington County could share the investment and benefits of constructing a new athletic facility complex beside the Boones Creek K-8 school, and how such a partnership might manifest. 

Back in August, Johnson City Mayor David Tomita and Washington County Commission Chairman Greg Matherly formed a task force of county and city leaders to study the potential joint venture. 

During its second meeting on Monday, the task force’s co-chairman, Clarence Mabe, presented a preliminary proposal outlining what both parties would be responsible for in constructing and managing the 35-acre facility. 

Washington County’s contribution included footing the entire $8 million projected cost of the athletic facility, according to Mabe’s proposal. That total also includes the current grading work being completed on the entire site. 

Johnson City’s responsibility would be paying for the installation of lighting, irrigation, the playing surfaces, additional parking, utilities, maintenance and upkeep. 

A walking trail and playground area would be a “joint effort” between the county and city, as well as the facility’s management. 

Additionally, task force members discussed the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department utilizing Grandview Elementary School’s three diamonds and Ridgeview Elementary School’s four diamonds for its local softball and baseball tournament play, which is reaching capacity at its current facilities.

Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis said the city’s facilities are being worn out with tournaments being played 37 straight weekends a year and little downtime for field maintenance. 

“It’s a win-win for the city and the county if they’re not using the fields and we can use the fields when they’re not. Why double what you’re doing? That conserves money for the county and city, and we’re all one thing anyway. Everyone who lives in the city lives in the county,” task force co-chairman and City Commissioner Todd Fowler said.

“If we just keep it open dialogue and do things like this, I think we would all be happier and there would be less fighting.”

The current rendering of the athletic facility complex, completed by architect Tony Street, included two 300-foot diamonds and two 225-foot diamonds.

The task force came to an agreement that four 300-foot facilities would be more advantageous, since temporary outfield fencing could be installed to shrink the field for softball games. Mabe immediately asked Street about the possibility, who said it might work and he would begin working on it.  

Another possibility discussed Monday was installing artificial turf, which could cost an estimated $1 million per field, but if designed correctly, could be transformed into a rectangular field when needed. That idea could eliminate the need for the single rectangular field currently included in the rendering. 

“The possibility of having turf fields would make it very user-friendly all the time. More people would probably want to go out there than come to Winged Deer because of the fields,” Fowler said. 

The turf field would also be extremely attractive to traveling softball and baseball tournaments. Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Director of Sports Development Gavin Andrews said some tournaments won’t even consider a location if it doesn’t have turf, which helps cut down on rainouts. 

Moving forward, Johnson City officials will attempt to pinpoint the exact costs associated with its responsibilities. City Manager Pete Peterson estimated lighting a 300-foot diamond field could run about $200,000, while sodding can run about $35,000 and irrigation can range from $15,000 to $25,000. 

Just last week, city leaders viewed a proposal for building seven diamonds and two rectangular fields beside Winged Deer Park, but that project would cost between $17 and $18 million, likely much more than the potential partnership with the county. 

“We talked to Tony Street tonight about tweaking that plan because right now, they’ve got a school footprint and all the land around it. They’ve come up with this possibility here and they’re not done. That’s why we’re trying to get this done early so they can go ahead on the plans for their (school) building,” Fowler said. 

“They’re already grading so it’s like, ‘Do we need to grade a little differently if we’re going to put four 300-foot fields in?’ ” 

The task force will meet again Nov. 21 at 6 p.m., but have not set a specific location yet for the meeting. Mabe said he is hoping to recommend a proposal to the County and City Commissions by at least February. 

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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