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City officials still unsure on county sports complex

Clarence Mabe and James Ellis talk over the two presented facility complex plans.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Two options were presented last week for the athletic facilities complex slated to be built on Boones Creek Road, but the athletic facilities task force didn’t come to a decision on either plan.

The task force, comprised of both Washington County and Johnson City officials, opted to hold off on a design plan decision until all members of the task force could weigh in.

The first option includes four 300-foot baseball fields. The second option includes four 300-foot fields with Astroturf and one softball field. Ed O’Hara, the CHA Design/Construction Solutions sports market leader for the project, said the second option would cost $11.3 million. The county has $3 million earmarked for the athletic facilities complex, meaning the city would put about $8 million towards the athletic facility complex.

One concern cited at the meeting was the absence of soccer, track and football facilities in both plans. Director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Jonesborough Rachel Conger asked about any potential plans for a football or soccer field.

“I know there’s not a whole lot of programming for soccer and football, but further down the road, if you’re going to need facilities for that, what’s the plan for that?” Conger said. “You just hate to eliminate the possibility of programming outside of baseball and softball at the school, especially a brand-new school.”

Washington County Commissioner Bryan Davenport explained that the county has one football team, one boys soccer team and one girls soccer team at the middle school level to filter into Daniel Boone High School and David Crockett High School. Clarence Mabe, who is a former Washington County Board of Education member, said a football field, track and lights for those fields were estimated at $3 million and “shoots the whole budget.” He also said the county currently has a few soccer and football fields at Jonesborough Middle School and in Boones Creek that aren’t being utilized.

“If we’re not using it,” Mabe said, “do we want to spend $3 million for it?”

It wasn’t a lack of fields that served as a concern for some city officials.

Johnson City is still considering buying the Wilson property that sets adjacent to the city’s athletic facilities at Winged Deer Park. For some, the possibility of eventually placing ballfields on that property is a holdup where the county sports complex is concerned.

“If the city of Johnson City is going to invest millions of dollars — to have to try to work around scheduling conflicts is not something I would recommend. But that’s just me,” James Ellis, the Johnson City Parks and Recreation director said. “I’ve got reservations when it’s the Wilson property verses this property.”

Ellis said having space for adult league play was the city’s main issue. He expressed concern in getting the city’s softball teams on the future fields on Boones Creek Road starting at 6 p.m. when the county would also be using those fields for county school practices and ball games. Davenport reminded the city that summer use would be no issue where the two were concerned and that the school teams finish up their season near the beginning of May.

Jonathan Kinnick, who is a Johnson City Board of Education member and the city’s parks and recreation advisory board chairman, however, said he felt the Wilson property’s location was key from the city’s park and recreation perspective.

“If we get money from the city to build fields, it makes more sense to have them right here at Winged Deer. Our first priority has always been for our citizens. It’s a win-win if we can make that work, if we’re also bringing in bigger tournaments. Is it going to pay for itself? No. Will it help? Yes. Having all of that complex together makes for a pretty big complex. All the maintenance is in one place, it cuts down on cost verses having to have separate people and equipment there.”

However, Johnson City Commissioner Todd Fowler said he felt the county sports complex offered an answer to the city’s facility woes now, rather than down the road.

“This meets our citizens’ needs next year for what we need field-wise to start right now,” Fowler said. “In 10 years, it may not. But right now, more fields would expand us out. We get to play here and we don’t have cancellations (due to the Astroturf fields).”

Fowler asked what the complex would look like without the city’s partnership. Mabe and Davenport said it would mirror the complex at Ridgeview and that there would certainly be no Astroturf.

“We’ll drop back and do the best we can,” Mabe said on the possibility of the city backing out of the partnership. “Like I said from the start, if it fits, we wear it. If it doesn’t, we don’t.”

“The way I look at it is, this is obviously not 100 percent of what everybody wants,” Davenport said. “But if you get 90 percent of what you want for 60 percent less money, that’s a wise move for us to do. If we had unlimited funds, we’d do something different.”