The fate of the future of the athletic facilities may be settled on Thursday.
Will they be left to rot while remaining under the control of a budget strapped school board with no intentions of making any repairs or improvements? Or will they be given away to the city of East Ridge in hopes that in the city’s hands the funds necessary to maintain and improve the facilities may be found.
The answer comes on Thursday when the city of East Ridge goes before the Hamilton County Board of Education seeking their approval to a deal that titles the athletic properties at East Ridge High School in the name of the city.
The city had been looking for solutions to provide assistance with issues at the athletic property for years. On an almost annual basis the council receives requests for assistance in mowing or maintaining baseball or softball fields. They agreed to trim trees that hung too low on the tennis court. When Raymond James Stadium was condemned the city’s efforts were dramatically increased.
As the HCDE willingly admits they are operating on a shoestring budget. One that prevents them from being able to adequately supply classrooms with essentials let alone provide maintenance and upkeep on school athletic facilities.
This factor is one that some say has prevented other organizations from stepping up and making significant donations. Why help provide a field house if it will be left to rot? It’s an honest question and one that civic-minded organizations have had to ask themselves facing the current HCDE budget crisis.
So the city of East Ridge for the sake of some of it’s youngest citizens is wanting to step up and assume control of this property. They intend to spend about $40,000 the first year in capital improvements alone. The city intends to resurface the tennis court, fix the track and replacing light bulbs and bring in dirt and other supplies needed to adequately prep the fields for play.
In addition, the city will spend about $50,000 annually to provide an employee who is primarily assigned to maintain the athletic fields as well as for other supplies needed such as fertilizer, chalk, paint etc. to keep the fields in playing condition.
Citizens will be able to use the facilities whenever the school is not using them. The move will provide the only set of tennis courts publicly available in the city as well as a walking track that is centrally located and can be accessed more easily by those living on the western side of our city.
The city will make further improvements to the properties by using grant money. These grants are available for cities to use to provide recreational space for residents but are not typically available to school systems. At present, City Manager Scott Miller says the city intends only to restore what’s currently on site and make improvements only when done so using funds secured by grants.
Of course, this means, as pointed out by city councilman Jacky Cagle, that citizens of East Ridge will be “double taxed.” Our citizens are already paying the HCDE taxes which should be used in part to provide for maintenance of the facilities that will now instead be maintained by tax dollars paid to the city of East Ridge.
Despite that objection, the rest of the city council at the last regular meeting approved the agreement that took nine revisions to be completed and includes a number of provisions that would allow the HCDE to “take back” the property if violated.
While I understand the school system’s reservations about giving away property, they have to ask themselves what is the alternative? That we have unplayable tennis courts, and no field house at the stadium and that everything that is currently in a usable fashion will be left to rust and rot with no preventative or regular maintenance being provided whatsoever?
The only condition on this provision should have been that the City Of East Ridge continues to do what the Hamilton County Department of Education cannot _ provide routine and regular maintenance to the facilities to keep them in good working order and condition.
I hope on this issue that the school board can look beyond politics or greed and do the right thing by supporting this agreement.
After all this isn’t about the city of East Ridge securing valuable property from the school at no cost, or about the ability of the HCDE to lay off its responsibilities onto the city of East Ridge.
This is about children – citizens of both East Ridge and Hamilton County – and providing them with facilities both now and for generations to come that gives them something they can be proud of.