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County says ‘yes’ to sports complex study

The Washington County Commission had numerous decisions to make on Monday night, including those regarding the athletic facility complex and office space for District Attorney General Kenneth Baldwin (pictured at podium) and his team.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

City and county officials took to the podium at the Washington County Commission’s meeting on Monday, July 23, to discuss a proposal to draft athletic facility complex concept plans for the future Boones Creek sports complex.

In a 17-6 vote, the commission approved the proposal from CHA Design/Construction Solutions to conduct a study to give county and city officials an idea of how many athletic fields could fit on the 37 acres allocated for the sports complex. The study will use $49,800 from the county’s capital projects fund balance.

Johnson City officials suggested the county consider using CHA, with which the city had previously used for multiple sports facilties. The proposal came months after city and county officials, as part of the athletics facilities task force, met to discuss a potential partnership on the athletic facilities complex at Boones Creek.

“Whether or not we move forward with any kind of joint venture with Johnson City, this is not wasted work,” Commissioner Todd Hensley said. “This is work that will have to be done either way. We’ve got material, machinery and people on site now (for the .Boones Creek School project), so the sooner, the more likely it is that we can utilize resources that are already on the site to save us money.”

Not all commissioners were ready to see the athletic complex study be approved — at least not right now. Commissioner Danny Edens and Mike Ford suggested the commission hold off on going ahead with the study.

“We are going to have people on site for quite a while. I would like to see us delay this because it will not hinder people being on site. They’ll be there until the school is completed,” Edens said. “With all the changes that’s coming with the school board and this commission, I think we can delay this until we can get a new commission and get new eyes, new opinions on it.”

City officials were also called from the audience to weigh in on the city’s perspective in regards to the potential partnership. Jonathan Kinnick, the chairman for the city’s parks and recreation advisory board cited the Wilson property that the city is currently considering purchasing near Winged Deer Park as a factor in potentially not entering the partnership with the county.

“Having millions to spend on the Wilson Property and having millions to spend at Boones Creek, I don’t see that as realistic,” Kinnick said. “From the parks and rec perspective, it was either or.”

However, Johnson City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin said the study is a necessary step in considering the partnership from the city’s perspective, though it by no means solidifies Johnson City in a partnership.

“The primary thing that the city needs is assurance that we can get a certain number of fields on this piece of property,” Van Brocklin said. “If we can’t get those fields on there, then you’ll pay for a study that hopefully is useful to you in the development of your school facility, but the city won’t be a partner in this endeavor. Is it possible that we are? Yes, if the cost is right and the property can be properly developed.”

The athletics facility study wasn’t the only lengthy discussion; after multiple citizens addressed the commission about the resolution regarding the lease of office space for the District Attorney General for the 1st Judicial District of Tennessee, a resolution to defer the decision failed in a 7-16 vote. The commission then passed a resolution approving a memorandum of understating for the appropriation for the office space in a 14-9 vote.

With the resolution, the county is “requested to commit to funding 50 percent of the lease cost for a four-year period.” The county’s share of the annual lease expense is estimated at $69,882 to be paid to the State of Tennessee.

The DA office is currently located at the George Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough, an office in which Commissioners and District Attorney General for the First Judicial District Kenneth Baldwin said was a “coat closet” and did not offer enough space for those in the DAs office, nor adequate storage space. However, the issue commissioners and some citizens shared were not with the need for space, but in leading up to the proposed location.

The proposal involved moving the office to the “Fox Building” at 107-113 East Jackson Blvd., which is owned by Kelly Wolfe, the owner of Wolfe Development and the former Jonesborough mayor. Willie Shrewsbury, the county’s planning director, sent out a request for proposal for the office space project which he said was announced and open for 13 days, which is a typical amount of time, Shrewsbury said. Some citizens, however, questioned if the bid process was long enough. Shrewsbury also said the only other property owner who sent in a proposal for the project said he felt the RFP was designed for Wolfe’s property.

“There’s a lot of things that we don’t know about. I’ve had a lot of input from the community in my district that I serve. I’ve had several emails and I think what this commission needs to do is make sure we’re above board on everything we do,” Ford said. “I think integrity is in question here. I want to make sure what we do is open and that everybody who wants to bid on this project can bid on it.

“I don’t care if Kelly Wolfe gets this bid. I don’t care that Joe Buck gets this bid. I don’t care who gets it. I just want to make sure that everyone gets an opportunity and that it’s done right.”

Ford asked that the commission defer the decision for 90 days.

Baldwin said the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference is the administrative body for DAs throughout the state and holds certain building and space requirements for a DA’s office. Baldwin also said the proximity to the justice center was a deciding factor in selecting Wolfe’s property.

“One of the prime things that attracted the people in Nashville to this property was location, location, location. It is within a rock’s throw of this building. It is perfectly suited for security purposes.”

While Commissioner Joe Grandy said he didn’t want to hold up the DA’s office by opting to defer the decision for 90 days, he also said being open to the public was a main concern.

“My biggest concern is, our scope is transparent. We want to keep it that way,” Grandy said. “Like Commissioner Ford said earlier tonight, ‘Hey, are we rushing into this?’”

“While 90 days is putting the DA’s folks in a penalty box and would perhaps cause them to lose a space that could be very appropriate for them, is there a shorter duration of time we might take to be sure that we are doing the work of the citizens of Washington County?”

Hensley mentioned the office’s need for the space as a deciding factor in the discussion.

“What more do we need to do? They’ve been penalized for eight, 10 or 12 years over there,” Hensley said. “Someone tell me where the other piece of property is that suits this need. I just don’t know what more would happen in 30 more days.”