A short-handed Joint Athletic Facility Task Force, consisting of just five Washington County members, convened Wednesday at the old Jonesborough Courthouse, where member Angie Charles read an email from Johnson City Commissioner Todd Fowler, who has served as the task force’s co-chairman.
"At our last City Commission meeting, a majority of commissioners did not want to spend money for athletic fields at the Boones Creek site,” Fowler’s email stated.
“I appreciate the time everyone spent on this project. You probably need to meet, but I don't believe the Johnson City appointees will be at the meeting. I'm sorry we couldn't work out a joint effort to complete the fields."
Because Johnson City representatives made up nearly half of the 11-member task force, Bryan Davenport made a motion asking Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy to either appoint new members or create another task force altogether.
“(I) started thinking about how do we move forward? I think that we need to go back to square one to get our legs up under us again, and let the Washington County mayor make a selection to add people or to change this task force,” Davenport said.
“I would like to have the right representation here. I'm not sure exactly who that is, but I think the mayor will know. So I'd like to make a motion that we reconvene after the mayor has looked at the members we have left on this task force.”
Before voting to approve the motion, member Rachel Conger, Jonesborough parks and recreation director, suggested Grandy appoint someone from the Boones Creek school, whether it be a principal or Director of Schools Bill Flanary.
“I'd like to request that of Mayor Grandy, especially if this is going to be more focused on what the school needs,” Conger said.
While the school will certainly use the athletic fields, task force Co-Chairman ClarenceMabe said the athletic fields will officially be labeled a county project, not a school project. If the project came out of the school budget, any debt incurred would have to be shared with the city, effectively doubling the cost.
When the task force was first appointed in August 2017 to study whether the city-county partnership was feasible, Mabe said if the project didn’t work for both parties, they would shake hands and move on.
“I really appreciate the city for coming and trying, but I think now, it will be a great opportunity to develop something that will be good for the students, teachers, coaches and community. I think we'll have something very special. Saying that, let's go forward as it looks like the city won't be with us,” Mabe said.
In July, the Washington County Commission voted to spend $49,800 contracting CHA Consulting Inc. and Thomas Weems Architects to develop two concept plans for building athletic fields beside the new Boones Creek school.
When the concepts were complete, featuring four diamond fields, the cost came out to be approximately $11.3 million, much higher than city officials anticipated. At the time, the Athletic Facility Task Force voted 4-3 against presenting the plan to the Johnson City Commission.
Additionally, Johnson City commissioners already took a big step in committing to build athletic fields elsewhere when they voted 4-1 earlier this month to purchase property beside Winged Deer Park for $1.4 million. Fowler was the only “nay” vote, saying the price was too high for him.
“It is my understanding, the Athletic Task Force voted not to proceed with a request to the City Commission,” Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock said.
“The cost projections from the consultant were almost double the original estimate of the project. This would have required significantly more funding from the city. Over time, I prefer we make those investments at the new Winged Deer Park.”