The Signal Mountain Town Council is discussing taking over scheduling of the athletic playing fields at the county's Shackleford Ridge Park and Signal Mountain Middle/High School, as well as operation of the town's field-sports leagues.
All of the leagues need more space, said Town Manager Boyd Veal — which they would get if the town takes over scheduling of the fields, and centralizing operations would further streamline scheduling.
The youth baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse leagues, now run by volunteers, enthusiastically support control of those leagues being transferred to the town, he said.
Currently, teams in the football league are practicing on baseball outfields, and baseball teams are practicing in the town gym. The lacrosse league, the town's newest league, is often last priority when it comes to scheduling the fields, Veal reported.
Other than the spots where the Nolan Elementary and Signal Mountain Middle/High School buildings sit, the entire property surrounding the two schools — including where the middle/high school's athletic fields are located — is a public county park. Since the park was developed using mostly grant funding through the county's Parks and Recreation Department, the state requires that it be open to the public, said Veal.
Organized use, such as league play, counts as public use, he said.
"The school would get the primary use of the things that they use now, but when possible, we would also be able to schedule those for other uses," Veal said, adding that when the fields are not in use for organized sports or events, they have to be open to the general public.
A proposed agreement between the town, county and school system would give town leagues access to the park's three multi-use fields, all of the school's baseball fields when not in use, and the school's hitting facility and football stadium.
Under the agreement, the town would take on the day-to-day maintenance of the park's three multi-use fields, the restrooms and concessions area. Electrical, plumbing and structural issues would remain the county's responsibility. The town would cover the cost for utilities, as it does for its other fields, through a secondary agreement with the community rec leagues that use the fields.
The agreement has been discussed among representatives and attorneys of each of the three government entities, but none have signed yet, said Veal. All three must sign for it go into effect, he said.
A draft of the agreement has been distributed to the town council to look over and discuss any changes they may want to make before signing.
Veal said the three multi-use fields are mainly used for soccer, and the agreement would also allow for a secondary partnership between the town and the Signal Mountain Soccer League, much like the league currently has with the county to use and maintain the fields during its playing season.
The contract between the town and county entities would last for a period of six years, when the lease between the county and school system runs out in 2026.
"At least for that period of time, we would have significantly more use of the facilities," said Veal.
Aside from the soccer league, Signal's youth baseball league is the only town rec league that currently uses a field at the park.
Vice Mayor Amy Speek asked whether lacrosse will be allowed to use the school's football stadium, as lacrosse can damage the field and the Signal Mountain Middle/High School Sports Boosters spends $70,000-$80,000 a year to maintain it. She said she could see some pushback from parents and the Sports Boosters over the rec leagues' use of the fields.
Veal said that while the town would be handling the scheduling, the school would need to approve each use and reservation for the fields in Shackleford Ridge Park. The Hamilton County Department of Education leased the property from Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department in 2001, so the school has first priority, said county Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb.
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