Hamilton County school board to consider facility funding plan to fix stadiums

Commissioners Tim Boyd and Joe Graham
photo Seen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in East Ridge, Tenn., the demolished Raymond James Stadium at East Ridge High School is a pile of rubble. The stadium was condemned this summer.

The Hamilton County school board may vote today whether to ask the County Commission to match school system dollars to fix deteriorated or demolished high school stadiums.

Last week, board members backed the idea in response to a plan that the Department of Education use revenues from a pending 25-year cell tower lease agreement to pay for new bleachers for East Ridge High School. In return for allowing a cell tower to be placed on the school's campus, the cell tower company will give a $10,000 donation to East Ridge High School and pay at least $1,500 a month in leasing fees to the school system.

Commissioner Tim Boyd, who represents East Ridge, has championed the stadium plan, which runs counter to a school board decision to split cell tower lease money between the high school and the district's technology fund.

The Hamilton County Commission has the ultimate say-so whether the lease agreement between the school system and the cell tower company goes forward.

During Wednesday's voting session, county commissioners remained silent on the subject.

Apart from announcing the commission would vote on the lease agreement on May 25, Commission Chairman Chester Bankston did not comment on the situation.

Boyd made no comment on the East Ridge Stadium cell tower flap except to say he would attend the school board meeting.

Commissioner Greg Beck showed the only hint of conflict with the school board when he simply voted "present" on measures to fund school facility improvements, including a new access road for Daisy Elementary and furnishings for Middle Valley, Nolan and Wolftever elementary schools.

After the meeting, Beck explained his vote as a response to school board maintenance priorities.

"I'm waiting on a new stadium for Howard High School, and that's probably the bottom line," Beck said. "It's not vicious or anything like that, I'm just on hold right now."

Several commissioners voiced criticisms of their school board counterparts following a recent meeting of the two groups concerning educational facilities.

Beck alleged the school board had "a history of double-crossing us when we send money out there" for maintenance.

Commissioner Joe Graham called for the school system to dip into its reserves to take care of facility needs.

Last fall, school board Chairman Jonathan Welch responded to similar comments made by commissioners, stating that tight budgets are a reality for the school system.

More recently, Welch called the cell tower stadium plan a "Band-Aid" for East Ridge that left Howard, Tyner and other schools out in the cold.

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

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com.