published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Red Bank land swap gets federal OK

by Chris Carroll

Years of bureaucratic twisting led Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey to compare the quest for a new middle school to “a roller coaster.”

A long loop has straightened itself out, but there’s another one coming.

Wednesday night, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., sent Dorsey a good-news e-mail — the U.S. Department of the Interior has agreed that Red Bank can swap city recreation land to a youth softball league for 14 acres behind Red Bank High School now used as four softball fields.

The new middle school and its athletic fields would occupy that acreage and the city could develop the existing middle school property in the heart of town. The softball league will get two fields at White Oak Park and “hopefully a third and maybe a fourth,” Dorsey said.

But the Red Bank Board of Commissioners will have to vote to accept the land swap. On Thursday, Commissioners Floy Pierce and John Roberts lamented the softball league’s potential loss.

Both worried about losing the “centralized location” of those fields — they are situated next to Dixie Youth Baseball fields — and Roberts said watching softball there “is better than an Atlanta Braves game.”

“Even though we need a new school, it’s a bad idea and a bad location,” said Roberts, who in December led a charge to explore alternate options for the middle school’s location. “Those four softball fields are an asset to our community.”

Pierce said she doesn’t want the city to lose any money in the deal, but later said she’d rather plant the new middle school on the north end of Red Bank, where two now-defunct grocery stores sit.

Dorsey said that land would cost “millions.”

Roberts’ December tangent confounded school board officials, who had met with commissioners to update them on plans to build behind Red Bank High School.

Gary Waters, Hamilton County assistant superintendent of auxiliary services, said county taxpayers have invested $800,000 to $850,000 in unrecoverable civil engineering and environment surveying funds to examine the land near the high school.

“Those components would not necessarily fit another site,” he said.

Federal approval is only step one in a process that requires a public hearing and a commission vote.

“Hopefully most of our citizens will reach the same conclusion that I have,” Mayor Monty Millard said. “It makes good fiscal, financial sense to accept and take the proposal as it stands now.”

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