HUNTSVILLE — Scott County may be closer than ever before to transferring ownership of the John John Yancey Memorial Park to Scott High School. However, a potential stumbling block will have to be cleared.
Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals on Monday informed County Commission’s Building & Grounds Committee that he has reignited conversations with Scott County Director of Schools Bill Hall about transferring ownership of the facility — which includes athletics fields used by the high school’s sports teams — to the Board of Education. Currently, the entire grounds — including, as it turns out, the football field and property on which the Museum of Scott County complex sits — are in the name of county government.
Tibbals first attempted to broker a deal between county government and the school board during his first term in office, but the two parties could not come to terms. The issue was addressed again during the tenure of former County Mayor Dale Perdue. Now, with the county again receiving requests to invest money in the facility, Tibbals said “I just felt like it was time to do it.” He pointed out that the athletics fields at every other county school are owned by the school board, not by county government.
Tibbals said Monday that he and Hall had reached a tentative agreement, through which the county would continue to maintain the parking area and picnic area that were formerly known as the Scott County Park, which the county pays $400 per month to lease, while the ownership of county-owned property on the east side of the creek would be transferred to the school board. That would include the track, baseball and softball field and soccer field. The school board would provide the county access to its mower sheds on the property.
“It’s major work for our staff to maintain that area and it’s mainly used for school functions,” Tibbals said. “It’s only right that the property should become their property in their name.”
However, 4th District County Commissioner Kenny Chadwell said that when the issue was last addressed during the Perdue administration, it was dropped after the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Advisory Service issued an opinion that ownership could not change due to grant money being used to build the athletics fields. A stipulation of that grant, he said, was that open access be guaranteed.
Both Tibbals and the county’s attorney, John Beaty, said that they had not viewed the CTAS opinion. In light of that revelation, however, the issue was put on hold while a definitive answer is sought. Tibbals opined that the county could ask for the grantor to relieve the grant obligations.
Chadwell, a former baseball coach at Scott High, also raised a concern about the general public losing access to the facility if ownership is transferred to the school board.
“If the school system gets it, they’ll fence it in and close off access,” he said. “I would have, too. The school system is not going to invest money in something and not close it off.”
Chadwell acknowledged that the property is used for school functions “95 percent of the time — maybe even 99 percent” but said that Storm football, the county’s youth football program, uses the facility for practices, and also pointed out that the county’s Fallen Officers Memorial is now located on the property.
Tibbals conceded that Hall had informed him the school board would review the rules of the park if it took ownership, an apparent nod to the implication that a transfer of ownership would make the property generally off-limits to all uses except those involving the school.
“The school system has been nothing but accommodating,” Chadwell said. “(But) they have to protect their investment.
The facility has been the subject of a political tug-of-war of sorts over the years, with the school system reluctant to spend money on upgrades because it cannot limit access and the county reluctant to spend money on upgrades because it’s primarily used for school functions.