In 2015 city officials condemned the home stands at Raymond James Stadium at East Ridge High School.
The Pioneer football team played a full season with the hulking ruin of prefabricated concrete stands as a symbol of lack of funding for sports facilities by the Hamilton County Department of Education.
in 2017, after protracted negotiations with Hamilton County, the City of East Ridge acquired ownership of the athletic fields and accompanying structures at ERHS. The idea behind owning the athletic fields was that the city would then maintain and improve the facilities to the benefit of the students and the community.
The East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association was formed almost immediately after the home stands at RJS came down. Its members have raised close to $100,000 for the purpose of building a fieldhouse. Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd has pledged an additional $50,000 to help fund bathrooms in the structure.
It certainly appeared that this substantial amount of seed money would spur the mayor and city council to fund the fieldhouse. But, sadly, that hasn’t happened.
Well, it’s my opinion that the biggest obstacle for the last two years was former City Manager Scott Miller. I sat through numerous City Council meetings where Miller would brief the council about the fieldhouse. Initially, he said that he and football coach Tim James were meeting to discuss “value engineering” concerning the construction. Then, in subsequent meetings Miller consistently inflated the cost of construction. Over the course of time, the cost went from about $400,000 to almost $700,000. There was never any documentation that I heard discussed about that cost increase.
Miller’s gone now, replaced by Chris Dorsey.
Dorsey told citizens at a recent “Meet the Mayor” event that he was kept up to speed on the proposed 2019-2020 budget that has yet to be presented to the council. According to a recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the proposed budget is $24.5 million, including all seven funds. Last year’s general fund budget was $13.6 million.
Can’t our elected officials, the new City Manager, and our Finance Director someway, somehow find $250,000 to build this thing? Along with $150,000 that’s been raised/pledged, that’s a $400,000 project. With that kind of coin demonstrating resolve, I venture to say that a handful of prosperous alumni could be convinced to write checks to the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.
Can you say TOUCHDOWN?
In coming weeks, the new budget will be presented to the East Ridge City Council. If there is not a line item in this proposed budget to fund the fieldhouse at Raymond James Stadium, I don’t think it will ever be built.
The City of East Ridge will send a clear signal to the students at ERHS and to the community that it is no better than Hamilton County when it comes to maintaining and improving sports facilities in the schools.
When the City of East Ridge took over ownership of the athletic fields a provision in the contract states that if East Ridge does not improve the facilities then ownership of the property could revert to Hamilton County.
The City of East Ridge rightly condemned the dilapidated stands at Raymond James Stadium, which metaphorically was the “kick-off” to this dilemma. The way I see it, with a substantial amount of money having been raised by the alumni association, and contributions from Boyd, it’s fourth and one inside the 50-yard line for the effort to build a fieldhouse.
Let’s go for it, and not punt this football back to the county.