Hamilton County school board to decide on East Ridge stadium funding tonight

Seen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in East Ridge, Tenn., a cheerleader stand is all that remains amid the rubble of the demolished Raymond James Stadium at East Ridge High School. The stadium was condemned this summer.

Hamilton County commissioners are waiting on their school board counterparts before voting to rebuild East Ridge High School's football stadium with private money.

The concrete facility was condemned and demolished last fall.

On Tuesday, the two groups discussed a plan to replace the stadium with lease revenues generated by a cell tower on the school's campus, but they failed to reach an agreement. The school board has stated its intent to split the lease money between the high school and the district's technology fund.

The Hamilton County Board of Education will consider whether to change its mind tonight.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted 9-0 to postpone a vote to approve the lease agreement and a requirement that the school district put cell tower dollars into rebuilding the stadium. If the County Commission does not approve the lease agreement, the cell tower deal cannot go forward.

Voting on the matter before the school board gets to deliberate amounted to "putting the cart before the horse," Commissioner Tim Boyd said. Boyd represents East Ridge and has championed the stadium replacement plan.

At stake is a $10,000 donation to the high school by the cell tower firm and a 25-year lease that will generate $1,500 in base rent a month. In addition to the base rent, the school system will receive 35 percent of gross revenues collected by the tower company from cellular services that use the structure.

The cell tower lease opportunity is "almost a godsend," Boyd said previously.

Boyd has cited "emphatic support" from East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who he said would oppose the cell tower if its revenues did not go toward a new stadium.

The East Ridge City Council has final say over the cell tower's placement.

Lambert later clarified that he would not necessarily oppose the cell tower deal if its rental fees were not used to build a new stadium. He attributed Boyd's comments to a misunderstanding.

School board Chairman Jonathan Welch has voiced concern over using cell tower proceeds for a new stadium.

In the joint discussion with the County Commission, Welch called the plan a "Band Aid" for East Ridge and said it did nothing for Howard or Tyner, schools that also have condemned stadiums.

"I worry about the precedent without having some sort of plan to actually take care of some of these facilities," he said.

Several commissioners said they were smarting after the meeting with school board members.

Commissioner Greg Beck said he had reached "the cussing stage" after he received disrespectful treatment and called for his colleagues to somehow tighten the reins on how the school board spent its money.

"They have a history of double-crossing us when we send money out there," Beck said. "They have a history of sending money somewhere else when we send it out there for maintenance."

Postponing maintenance is a reality of tight budgets, Welch has said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or [email protected]