Commissioners consider issuing debt to launch SHHS fieldhouse

Gary B. Gray • Dec 11, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Science Hill’s first home football game at the new Kermit Tipton Stadium was in September 2010.

Months before that game, a small field house included in the stadium contract with Kingsport’s GoinsRashCain was built on the visitors’ side of the field. When it was originally designed, there were plans to expand it — possibly to a two-story structure. But limited funds forced the city to live within its means with the intention of adding a larger field house at a later date.

On Wednesday, more than three years and three months after that home opener, the Press phoned local architect Tony Street and asked if he had any plans to share before a meeting of Johnson City commissioners to discuss the project.

“We don’t really have anything set yet,” Street said.

He was right. Nothing is set, but he did bring with him a colorful PowerPoint presentation which gave commissioners a look at two options. The first: a $2 million one-story, red brick, 12,000-square-foot field house complete with team room, 100-locker area, junior varsity room, coaches offices, equipment room, weight room and facilities for both boys and girl athletes.

The second: a $1.7 million version with the junior varsity facilities removed.

Should either design be approved, visiting teams would use the existing field house.

Some commissioners questioned whether the structure was just too large to serve its intended purpose.

“Do I think we’re over-building something that won’t be used — I honestly don’t,” said Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin.

The proposed field house would sit east of the running track and to the right of the bleachers used by the school band. Its presence would help pull practice, workout, and equipment and weight rooms out of Freedom Hall into another facility, centralized near the stadium for use by mainly football, soccer and other outdoor sports.

Here’s the bottom line: commissioners seem willing to borrow about $1.2 million to help pay for the facility now, considering the cash that’s on hand. But they do want new revenue streams generated to help them make the debt payments.

There is about $850,000 on hand. About $450,000 has been rounded up by the “Take it to the Top” campaign. The bulk of that was the result of ex-SHHS athletes Steve Spurrier and Carleton Jones who each committed $100,000 for naming rights to the new 6,000-seat sports palace.

Other donations have come from Van Brocklin, who committed $25,000, various other donors and commemorative brick sales. Johnson City Schools also has about $400,000 at the ready, bringing the total on hand to $850,000.

There are a few other possibilities for the influx of major dollars. The scoreboard, with all its bells, whistles and advertising space, is generating about $50,000 a year. Tony Treadway, campaign chairman, also said the city could sell the field house naming rights for as much as $100,000, and another $100,000 in donations are “out there,” he said.

Also, the city had been forking out $175,000 a year to pay for the Keefauver Farm, but that debt has ended meaning the money could be used.

But commissioners don’t want to carry the load themselves.

City Manager Pete Peterson will be talking with SHHS Athletic Director Keith Turner to see if tickets prices and parking can be “adjusted upward” to generate an additional $20,000 a year.

The “Take it to the Top” campaign, formed to raise money for an expanded field house, had the goal of building a state-of-the-art, 10,000 square-foot field house to compliment the new $5 million stadium. The group has been rather dormant of late and Treadway was the first to admit it.

“This has been a pretty long process, and the members on the committee have dwindled,” he said. “The moment to raise money through fundraising has passed.”

He also announced that former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive tackle and SHHS player Aubrayo Franklin’s interest in donating $100,000 has pretty much vanished.

A July 30 post — the most recent — on the Take It To The Top Facebook page said “Members of the fieldhouse fundraising committee met yesterday with architect, Tony Street, to locate, design and build our new Topper fieldhouse. Step one — where to put it at Kermit Tipton Stadium? Next, designing a great facility — stay tuned!”

That was nearly five months ago.

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