Rejected school site a new Town park?

While studying its upcoming budget, Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen learned about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand its parks during its workshop Thursday, April 13.

“I was very excited to bring this to you,” Town administrator David Smoak said.

“For the last 18 months, the Town has been working, really, with the (Knox County) School Sytem, talking about where’s the school going to be in Farragut,” he said. “They’re talking about adding an elementary school … they have a capacity issue they are trying to address.

“So, they have looked at a piece of property on McFee Road to purchase for a school there,” he said. “Well, in the last couple months, I think most people know, that has not gone forward.”

Afterward, Smoak said he and the property owner, Tim Scott, started talking “about opportunities for the Town,” and he said Scott would be interested in selling part of the property to the Town for a future park.

“So, we started getting to work and analyzing whether or not this is something that would be needed,” he said.

Smoak reminded the Board of the Town’s master plan to expand parks and said the staff looked at the Town’s ballfield usage.

“We’re using (rectangular) fields Monday through Thursday 100 percent of the time … for 10 months of the year,” he added. “All the trends are showing we’re starting to get more and more usage than we typically have of our fields.”

Smoak said the Town would need a minimum of 30 acres.

The appraised value of that land, last year, was roughly $100,000 an acre, Smoak said.

“So, roughly you would have $3.5 million because you would need 5 acres to get to McFee Road to build out a road to get there,” he added.

“But, if we were able to acquire more, he’s able to donate land to the Town,” Smoak said. “That would drop that per-acre cost down to roughly $85,000 per acre if we were to purchase 55 acres.”

The funds could come from general fund reserves or CIP funds. He asked for feedback about the Board’s interest.

“I like the idea of expanding the (ball)fields,” Alderman Scott Meyer said. However, he suggested a dark park because of existing neighborhoods in that area.

“I’m all for sports opportunities for young people,” Alderman David White said. “My only concern — and it might be a negotiating point for you to go back to the land owner — but to remove those trees and stumps because it is wooded. The stumps would have to come out, otherwise, your fields would never work.”

He added that may be an opportunity to have the cost reduced. He also pointed out there is a gorge on the back side of the property “that would have to be repaired somehow.”

White said he is not in favor of it being a dark park.

“You can’t fully utilize your fields,” he added.

“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mayor Ron Williams said. “I would support it.”

Regarding the gorge, “I think it would be a nice area for a trail,” he said. “My thought is to keep as many of the trees, as a buffer, as we possibly could.”

“I have mixed feelings on this,” Vice Mayor Louise Povlin said. “Not so much from the fact this is a great park land — I think that opportunity is very enticing — (but) I’m not all that thrilled about the idea that we would take down a lot of those trees and build a baseball park.

“That concerns me” she said. “I do agree with Alderman Meyer’s point that we do have existing neighborhoods across the way and (disagreed with) putting in lights.”

She added, as the Town would not be able to establish a park on the property right now, the Board may find another use later in the future.

“I can see extending the trails … down here,” Povlin said. As such, she generally supports the purchase and placing it in reserves.”

“I’m excited and definitely support the move to purchase the land,” Alderman Drew Burnette said. “If you look at the opportunities we have for parks in Farragut, we’re probably not going to be purchasing commercial frontage land in the middle of our Town …Thumbs up (to purchase).”