East Tennessee State University Athletics Director Richard Sander told the city’s school and government officials that the college is “very interested” in holding up to 20 basketball games per year at the city-owned Freedom Hall Civic Center after the overwhelming positive response this year to the three test games held there, but said it’s still too early to finalize a deal.
“We are really kind of talking with the city and investigating the possibility of a long-term relationship where we could play Freedom Hall, but we really haven’t talked to our students, and that’s one of the things that we want to do,” Sander said. “We want to get through this basketball season before we make that final decision.”
That decision will likely come before the end of the college’s spring semester in May, he said, once ETSU fully explores the logistics of transplanting its flooring and electronics equipment into the venue.
City Manager Pete Peterson addressed previously expressed concerns by the present members of the Johnson City Board of Education regarding how the college will pay for the electricity it uses while hosting games at the facility.
Accurately measuring the utility usage would be fairly easy, he said, but one problem that wouldn’t be as easy to solve would be how to deal with the Liberty Bell Middle School classes that are displaced when Freedom Hall is being prepared for use.
School Board Chair Kathy Hall said during ETSU’s three test games, 11 physical education classes that are usually held in the civic center had to find accommodations elsewhere.
“That happens when we have events there, and we understand that, but we need to add that into the equation,” Hall said. “We can’t do that on a regular basis without affecting our PE time.”
Peterson said the yearlong discussion with university officials could have yielded one solution to that problem.
In the spirit of cooperation represented by the Freedom Hall agreement, the school district could be granted the use of the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center on an as-needed basis.
“I think we would see the ability to work with Science Hill, like maybe if it rains and their band needs to practice, we believe the Dome would be a great facility for them to be able to come over and use for that sort of thing,” Sander agreed. “I think if we can really make this happen and work together to use these facilities with the best possible opportunities to make these things happen, it would improve the quality of life for our students, Science Hill’s students and the community in general.”
Sander said both Science Hill and city personnel also seemed supportive of allowing the ETSU’s rebooted football team to use Kermit Tipton Stadium while the college completes its own on-campus facility.
“We’re in the process right now of some significant planning to build a stadium,” he said. “The reality of that is we just can’t get the facility ready by 2015.”
The athletic director said he feels pretty good about the discussions surrounding the collegiate team’s use of the high school field for the five or six home games in its regular season.