- Published on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 15:50
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Once again, the King George School Board is currently unable to come to agreement on transferring unused property over to county ownership. The dispute harkens back to old antipathies toward Supervisors that many hoped had been set aside by the current School Board.
This time, Hunter Field is the topic of discussion, though it could just as easily be the former middle school building which was ceremoniously closed down in June 2009.
Three members were clearly in favor of transferring the deed, but that didn’t become clear until near the end of a lengthy and contentious discussion prompted primarily by questions and objections by School Board member John Davis.
At last week’s meeting on Oct. 10, Chairman Mike Rose said he wanted to talk about it since a new stadium has recently been completed. “We said when the new stadium was built, we were going to turn Hunter Field over to Parks &Rec.,” Rose said, but appeared to waver on that opinion as the discussion ensued.
Rose said they recently been asked by a local youth football group to use the field for football and also said he’d heard a soccer team and some others wanted to use it. He said he’d checked with the athletic directors of the high school and middle school, saying, “Both of them say they currently have no intention to use Hunter Field.”
He told the School Board, “What I would like to ask the board, is for us to consider turning Hunter Field over to Parks & Rec. so they can handle that field as part of their other fields they want to use for practices and for other Parks & Rec. activities. Because, that is really what it is going to be used for, from now on.”
Rick Randall stated his recollections on the topic, which bolstered Rose’s position, saying, “I would just like to remind people who might have forgotten. The previous School Board did make it fairly clear to the Board of Supervisors, I thought, while we were requesting funds for the stadium that once the stadium was on-line, that we were going to turn that field over to the county. And I understood that was to be part of the understanding. You know, ‘Build us a stadium and we’ll give you Hunter Field.’ I think we should carry it through.”
That was stated numerous times during while discussion of a new stadium was being planned, including at a joint meeting with Supervisors on the topic in August 2010 with Randall and Rose present.
But John Davis had questions that indicated he wanted the School Board to keep ownership, and simply let the Parks & Recreation department use it. Davis, a realtor, also questioned who would pay the cost involved in the transfer of the property as well as the necessity of turning it over to the county.
FACILITY USE AGREEMENT
Davis also focused on an agreement for use of school facilities, asking if it had “ever been signed.” He said, “I don’t know if it has – but they pretty much control everything we have when we’re not using it, if, that agreement has been signed.”
Rose stated, “I don’t think it’s ever been signed.” Davis responded, “The old agreement said whenever we’re not using it, they have it.”
Davis’s reference to ‘the old agreement’ is actually the existing facility use agreement between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors that remains in place.
Davis and Rose may have been referring to an “unsigned” version proposing amendments requested by the School Board that was rejected by the Board of Supervisors at a meeting in the end of 2005.
BILL PARKS & RECREATION FOR ELECTRICAL USAGE?
Upon hearing Davis’s objections, Rose appeared to agree with Davis, saying “I’m willing to go as far as putting the lights on a separate meter box and charge that to Parks & Rec., because we shouldn’t be using it anymore. And if we turn the electric on, it’s going to be charged to the schools. I’m willing to even go that far.”
But the tactic of billing the county for electrical costs during use by the Park & Recreation department had already been tried by the School Board. That didn’t fly in February 2008 when the School Board directed that monthly electric bills be tabulated and submitted to Parks & Recreation. The first and only one for $10,743.66 was sent in March 2008, but the decision to pursue billing was rescinded a couple months later after the county administration pointed out that the funding to cover those costs were already included in the county’s funding contribution to the School Board budget. There was also renewed talk of amending the existing agreement during that timeframe, but it never happened.
COSTS FOR PROPERTY TRANSFER
Randall answered Davis’s question about who would pay for costs of a property transfer saying, “Ultimately, we’re going to be going to the county. Any funds we need for our budget, we go to the county for, anyway.”
But Rose suggested, “We can just currently keep it as part of the school property per se and just turn the keys for opening and closing up Hunter Field over to Parks & Rec.”
Randall responded, “I just don’t want to be in a position of ‘here’s a piece of school property we don’t use, we have no intention of using, and we’re just going to hang onto it with tight little fists as long as we can,’ because that didn’t go over so well the last time it happened.”
School Board members Kristin Tolliver and Ken Novell finally chimed in.
Tolliver said that ownership includes “maintenance and trash pick and all that other kind of stuff.”
Tolliver’s comments regarding maintenance are significant, particularly giving the School Board’s historical lack of upkeep of the facility. The neglect of the field was so deplorable that in March 2010 it resulted in soccer and football officials informing the division they would not allow games to be played there.
The Rappahannock Soccer Officials Association stated in a letter that, due to the condition of the field, they would not permit their officials to be on the field for the coming season. There was no good reason for the long-term neglect of the facility. The School Board ended up with more than $250,000 left unspent in the Operations & Maintenance spending category that could have paid for regular maintenance. Instead, a high school landscaping teacher agreed to keep the field up as class project. Hourly pay was provided to him for the summer months.
Novell gave his comments on the issue, saying, “I’m not sure I hear any real issues here against giving it to Parks & Rec., or giving it to the county. I would think that the county is going to bear the cost of any changes to plats and titles and stuff like that. I don’t think I see any downside to giving it to Parks & Rec.”
Randall said Novell was right, adding, “Ultimately, whether we write the check for the deeds, plats, whatever, or the county writes the check, ultimately the county is going to appropriate that money.”
But Davis displayed more intransigence on the issue, saying, “I’m not going to write it, to give something away. Somebody is going to have to pay for it for me to give it away. I’m not going to write the check and say, ‘here.’ Why would I spend $10,000 to give something away? Somebody is going to have to pay for that and it won’t be us.”
Superintendent Rob Benson intervened, suggesting that he contact Tim Smith, director of Parks and Recreation, and Travis Quesenberry, county administrator, to get answers to some of the questions that had been posed.
COUNTY OWNS THREE SCHOOLS
Randall’s remark about not hanging onto the facility “because that didn’t go over so well the last time it happened,” had to be referring to the School Board’s decision to not turn over Ralph Bunche from the time it vacated the building in 1998 until 2009, when it finally deeded it over to the county.
During that time the Board of Supervisors started retaining ownership of property and new school buildings to avoid that same scenario occurring with at least some of the newer buildings.
As a result, the county owns three school buildings, King George Elementary School, Sealston Elementary School and the new high school and stadium.
The School Board owns the older buildings, including old King George Elementary School, Potomac Elementary School and King George Middle School, along with the former middle school building, which was formally closed in a ceremony on June 2009.
It also owns the former vocational building, which has not been in use for students since 2009. And the School Board owns the gym housed in a Quonset hut that is adjacent to Hunter Field, which is not used by the school division, with the county using it for Parks & Recreation programs and rentals. The county has also taken on maintenance of the gym, due to the division’s neglect.
With a potential majority on the School Board wishing to deed Hunter Field over to the county, it might be a good idea to include the gym property at the same time on any potential deed transfer.
School Board’s Hunter Field quandary