Commission, Board of Education to discuss ETSU use of sports facilities

Gary B. Gray • Feb 19, 2014 at 9:13 PM

It’s no secret East Tennessee State University’s basketball and football teams are in want of some hardwood and turf, and it appears a deal may be in the offing to use Johnson City Schools’ facilities to remedy that situation.

The City Commission and Board of Education meet today at 5 p.m. in the Municipal and Safety Building prior to the full commission meeting to get down to specifics.

BOE and Freedom Hall Committee member Thomas Hager said he was told by university officials that representatives of the Southern Conference, which ETSU will rejoin next year, preferred the city-owned Freedom Hall over the college’s Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center, known commonly as the Minidome, for the team’s home basketball venue.

“We haven’t received any proposals from ETSU, and as far as I know, they haven’t made any formal requests with the city,” Hager said Wednesday. “The meeting will hopefully help shed some light on when contracts might be available, and who exactly will pay for what.”

ETSU officials have been overtly interested in utilizing Freedom Hall for all its home basketball games next season, and several games played on the Science Hill Campus this year received glowing reviews.

The Bucs also will field a newly formed football program in 2015, but funding for one of two selected sites is not completely in place. The most obvious choice: Kermit Tipton Stadium, Science Hill’s state-of-the art facility.

Supervisor of Instruction and Facilities Dave Chupa and Board of Education Chairwoman Kathy Hall have said the university already is scheduling dates for the university’s men’s basketball team to play all of its home conference games at Freedom Hall. But school board members are still looking to get contracts in place to keep the district from footing the bill.

City and ETSU officials have discussed setting fees for the use of the facility, but this has not included utility expenses, which means the school district could end up paying power bills.

“I’m open to it, but we would have to work out what to do with our students during game days,” Hager said.

Meanwhile, Johnson City is still trying to find the funding to complete a $2 million field house upgrade project at the stadium more than three years after it was built. The project has seen some movement lately from the City Commission and local architects, but if the construction isn’t finished, the college team will not have a place to store or change into its gear, school officials said.

“Architect Tony Street gave the board a presentation at our last meeting,” he said. “We adopted his plan, but we did vote to place more red brick on the building instead of a plan he had to use steel or metal siding. This will cost about $70,000 more. Hopefully, we’ll get to see where he is with the design and how this will be paid for.”

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