City park shuffle may begin with Ashley Academy buy

Gary B. Gray • Dec 5, 2012 at 10:13 PM

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has determined the Ashley Academy property at 1502 Knob Creek Road would be an asset for use as an arts center and/or nature center, and the City Commission tonight will discuss whether to enter into negotiations to buy the property.

In October, the Advisory Board discussed the Optimist Park conversion process and unanimously voted to recommend to the City Commission the purchase of the Bays property, which is next to Winged Deer Park, as well as the purchase of the academy.

“This property would be (an) ideal replacement for the amenities currently located at Optimist Park and will offer many additional opportunities for the department (parks and recreation),” Advisory Board Chairman Grant Summers told City Manager Pete Peterson at the time.

Summers said the Bays property could accommodate additional soccer fields, open space, playgrounds and a four-field softball complex. He also said the academy property would be “ideal” for the replacement of Princeton Arts Center, along with nature programming.

The academy, which was appraised in 2008 at $650,000, sits on about 1.8 acres and is adjacent to Metro-Kiwanis Park. If purchased, the school would be relocated to property on Susannah Drive, according to earlier discussions. The property consists of five connected buildings constructed between 1960 and 1996 with a total of about 12,000 square feet.

Ashley Academy Board of Directors Chairwoman Beth Peterson said the school was facing size and space limitations that are inhibiting future growth opportunities.

“The ideal situation for us would be to find a buyer for the property, thus allowing us to purchase the property currently owned by Tri-Cities Christian located in Susannah Drive,” she wrote to the city manager and assistant city managers Charlie Stahl and Bob Wilson. “While the city might not be in a position to purchase the property in the near future, would the city have a need for one of its programs to be relocated to the Ashley Academy property?”

The rundown Optimist Park is located across from the current animal shelter property on Sells Avenue. The Parks and Recreation Department has been planning for about two years to decommission the old park and find new land on which to establish new programs. Today, the park remains in dire need of improvements, and it is not likely that activities at the park will continue in perpetuity.

The city received grant money to make improvements at the park. And the fact that some of that money came from the federal level requires the city to acquire new park land of equal or greater value that would be used by the parks and recreation department before it can initiate the decommission process.

Meanwhile, Princeton Arts Center has been on the unofficial “to unload or not to unload” list for some time. Johnson City, Washington County and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department have pitched in over time on needed repairs, such as roof repairs, the installation of drop ceilings, lights for classrooms and electrical repairs.

County officials asked the city manager nearly two years ago of Johnson City was interested in acquiring or leasing the property at 2516 E. Oakland Ave., but the response was lukewarm

The county uses the facility 50 percent of the time; the city uses it 25 percent of the time; and, it is used for other purposes 25 percent of the time.

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