Money set to snag Science Hill's field house project

Gary B. Gray • Jul 2, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Science Hill High School’s new field house has been designed, a low bid has been identified, and nearly $800,000 of contributions are locked in.

There’s just one snag.

The Board of Education withdrew $400,000 in funding for the project last month when members were cutting their way through the 2015 budget. That amount is more than 30 percent of the roughly $1.3 million city commissioners on Wednesday were ready to agree to borrow to pay for the $2.1 million state-of-the-art facility.

Commissioners tonight will consider a bid by Johnson City’s J.E. Greene Co., which sits at $2,069,600, including a brick veneered front desired by both commissioners and board members. That number does not include a specific contingency amount, but it likely would bring the total bid to or slightly past the $2.1 million mark.

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, who attempted twice during the city’s elongated debate over its 2015 budget to raise property taxes to properly fund both the school’s and the city’s needs, looked at BOE Chairwoman Kathy Hall at Wednesday’s called meeting.

“What happened to the $400,000?” he asked. “If that money’s not in there, I cannot support going forward with this.”

Hall confirmed the board voted to withdraw the money during the budget process.

“At the time, we had heard the City Commission was planning not to give the schools additional dollars,” she said. “But we are having a meeting Monday, and we certainly can discuss this.”

Vice Chair Richard Manahan and member Tom Hager both said they wanted to launch the project.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to go for it,” Hager said.

Here’s the rub: If commissioners defer approval of a bid, they are not sure how much the school system may be able to recover for the field house, or when that money will come around. If that question isn’t completely resolved in a few weeks, construction may have to be put off.

Street said if the City Commission approved the bid, site preparation could begin by the first of August and the project could be complete in July 2015.

City Manager Pete Peterson warned that even a few weeks could make a big difference in scheduling. If that isn’t pressure enough, Tony Treadway, who heads the “Take it to the Top” campaign for the new facility, said East Tennessee State University’s transition to football means it needs Kermit Tipton Stadium and the new field house, if only temporarily. He also said most donations have been made on the condition that ground will be broken soon.

“The time is now to make a commitment as to what we’re going to do,” said Van Brocklin, who long ago pledged $15,000 for the facility. “We’re at a point now, where after three years, we finally have plans and a bid for those plans. It has to be a firm commitment from those who pledged money, as well as the city and the board.”

With nearly $800,000 in confirmed financial commitments, including nearly $458,000 from the city, Peterson rolled out a $1.3 million borrowing plan that the city would pay back over a 20-year term at 2.75-percent. All commissioners seemed pleased with that idea.

Science Hill Athletic Director Keith Turner presented commissioners and school board members with a list of confirmed donors, which included other possible sources of funding. About $50,000 a year comes in from advertising sold on the stadium’s scoreboard. Also, Turner said he expects another $10,000 from parking fees.

He also said he and Treadway are working with an anonymous donor who is said to be willing to donate up to $140,000, with $70,000 to $100,000 going specifically to fund equipment in the weight room. Turner also said a number of the donors have requested naming rights in exchange for their good will.

Science Hill’s first home football game at the new Kermit Tipton Stadium was in September 2010, and plans for a new field house have been on and off the table many times over the past three years.

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.

The new facility would include locker rooms, showers, training room, coaches offices, weight-training room, as well as room to move seventh- and eighth-grade activities out of Freedom Hall and into the new field house, when not in use by varsity sports.

Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Gary-B-Gray. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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