published Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Parents want action on sports fields

by Dan Whisenhunt

There is still some confusion between parents and county officials after an angry public forum Monday at East Hamilton Middle High School.

Parents demanded answers from Commission Chairman Larry Henry, County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Board of Education member Linda Mosley about why athletic facilities were not built after school construction was finished in 2009.

The football field still does not have lights or bleachers, and work has not started on baseball and softball fields. One point of confusion is whether the school board agreed to fund the girls' softball field, and how much it agreed to pay for the work.

School officials said the county engineering department is finalizing the design of the baseball and softball fields and plans to advertise for bids in the spring.

Henry said he's as confused about the situation as parents.

"You've got an assumption there, and I think you can assume it correctly, that the department of education has agreed to fund [softball fields] and the implication is they have the money to do that," Henry said.

Trustee Bill Hullander, who as a county commissioner donated $80,000 to the baseball fields from his taxpayer-funded discretionary money, said that's the way he understood it, too. He said he met with school officials, including Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz, and they assured him the money was available.

"They said, 'Yes, we'll have the funds to do that,'" Hullander said. "'We'll have the funds to build the other field.' They put my money toward the boys field."

The school system received $266,087 from the sale of Signal Mountain Middle School, which is being used for athletic facilities.

Kranz said Wednesday the school always had intended to use money from the sale of the Signal Mountain Middle School property for the fields.

On Tuesday, Waters and Kranz e-mailed Mosley answers to several questions posed by parents.

The estimated cost is $443,475 for the softball and baseball fields, not including dugouts, plus concessions or restrooms, they said.

The school system has $238,708 available, including $158,708 from the Signal Mountain Middle proceeds and Hullander's $80,000.

Waters and Kranz told Mosley the plan is to advertise for bids in the spring and build until the available money runs out.

Waters said Wednesday the school system will build a "playable" girls' softball field but it will not include lights, dugouts, restrooms or concession stands. He said Hullander's $80,000 will go toward beginning construction of the baseball field.

Parents also wanted to know when the football field would be completed.

The school spent $107,378 of its proceeds from the Signal Mountain Middle sale on initial work including grading and sodding, leaving a balance of $158,708 to build the baseball and softball fields.

Henry also allocated $100,000 of his discretionary money for the initial work on the football field. That work was completed in the early fall, Henry said.

Henry said he will allocate another $100,000 in discretionary money combined with $180,000 that he said is left over from the school's startup money to help pay for general improvements. But there still will be no money for bleachers, and there won't be any money for additional improvements to other fields, like the soccer field.

Henry said in the future the county needs to build schools with all facilities intact.

Staff writer Kelli Gauthier contributed to this story.

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about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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crow1033 said...

Though I sympathize with EHCHS in accessing money that was promised to them, from the article, it seems that more money needs to be raised to complete the sports facilities. Signal Mountain Middle/High School raised the money from parents and businesses to provide the needed facilities that weren't covered by HCDE and Hamilton County. I agree that facility costs should be completed on the front end, but if the expectation is for HCDE to pay for it for East Hamilton County High School, then a reimbursement is in order for the parents of SMMHS and other schools that paid for facility needs through Booster/fundraising programs.

February 10, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.
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