A cell tower may be the ticket to the giving East Ridge High School a new football stadium.
County commissioners and school board members are expected to hash out this possibility at a facility planning meeting Tuesday evening at schools central office on Hickory Valley Road.
East Ridge High's concrete stadium was condemned and demolished last fall for structural problems with the home-side seating. No money has been set aside in Hamilton County's school district budget to replace it or other failing athletic facilities.
A pending 25-year lease for a cell tower on the campus will generate $1,500 in base rent a month plus a one-time $10,000 donation. The school system also will receive 35 percent of gross revenues collected by the tower company from cellular services that use the structure.
Commissioner Tim Boyd, who represents East Ridge, has proposed using all that money to pay off debt for prefabricated aluminum bleachers.
"The debt service money would be coming from a private company and essentially the stadium would be replaced with private money instead of taxpayer money," Boyd said in a recent meeting. "This is an extremely unique opportunity. It's almost a godsend."
Aluminum bleacher seating for 850 people should cost about $200,000 and labor fees could be reduced by using volunteers, according to figures researched by Boyd.
His recommendation runs counter to a school board proposal to give the donated money to the school and split the rental revenues between the school and the district's technology fund.
Boyd said the system could pay off the stadium debt and then implement the proposed split.
School board chairman Dr. Jonathan Welch said he wants to hear more about the proposal at the meeting.
Board member David Testerman, who represents East Ridge, voiced enthusiasm for the plan.
"I'm really excited about this," Testerman said, citing support from the East Ridge High School Alumni Association.
The loss of the old stadium has galvanized the group, which has been talking up the idea, he said.
Boyd cited "emphatic support" by East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who he said will oppose the cell tower lease if the money cannot be used for rebuilding the stadium.
Even though the lease agreement is between the school system and a private company, it still must be approved by the Hamilton County and East Ridge governments.
Lambert, who has criticized the school system over the demolished stadium, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Last fall, he said, "It's disappointing that the school system will not take an active role in replacing what is theirs."
At the time, he said the city wanted to be a part of the conversation about a long-term solution and that it likely would contribute financially.
Welch said in the fall that postponing maintenance is just a reality of tight budgets.
Boyd said he is not hopeful that the matter will be resolved quickly.
"I expect the school board to drag their feet like they do with everything else," Boyd said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or [email protected]