Fort Mill School District, town weigh joint recreation ideas

joverman@fortmilltimes.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— The Town of Fort Mill and the Fort Mill School District are considering teaming up on a project to add more recreation opportunities for the community and create a destination for sports-oriented tourism.

If voters approve a $54 million school bond sale in an April referendum, the school district will soon be building a new Riverview Elementary School on Hwy. 21 Business. Part of that property includes a section that is “unusable” for the school because of a nearby creek, School Board Chairman Patrick White said, although officials agree it would be perfect for athletic fields.

The property is also near the bridge over the Catawba River that serves as an entrance to Fort Mill from Rock Hill.

“You think about [Hwy.] 21 and how it comes into the town,” White said at a joint meeting Thursday night. “Our vision is to be able to see an athletic park complex the town runs and maintains and we have a school sitting behind it.”

After clearing the land, the district estimates it will have spent $1.7 million on that portion of the property. Officials hope the town will pick up the cost from there and handle the field construction and design, and construction of a central building. The district estimates that cost to be around $1.5 million.

White said the district would likely retain ownership of the property and lease it to the town for a nominal fee.

“All we would ask is that during the school hours the school could use it. But there are school play areas so I don’t even think there would be a lot of use on it. We feel like y’all would have complete ownership. It would be a Town of Fort Mill facility,” White said.

Mayor Danny Funderburk emphasized several times during the meeting that the town has a small budget and “our bonding capacity is limited.”

“[The town and the school district] have vastly different budgets and resources,” he said.

Raising taxes is one of the few ways the town can find additional revenue, Town Councilwoman Guynn Savage said.

“And that’s not a popular option. But we do think there are ways to find synergies and work with you guys. I just think we need to take a long hard look at it. It’s hard for us to find additional revenue, but that’s not to say we won’t attempt it,” Savage said.

Despite the financial concerns, the mayor and town council seemed excited about the possibility.

“I think it’s safe to say there is a strong interest in this,” Funderburk said.

A large athletic center could bring in revenue from sports tourism if done correctly, said Auvis Cole, sports sales manager for the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He noted that in 2011, Rock Hill brought in $17 million in revenue from sports tourism.

Booster clubs also benefit from added ways to raised funds, Cole said. The location is also ideal for occasional partnerships with Manchester Meadows on “mega” tournaments, such as softball and soccer events that attract teams from across the county, he said.

“Then it’s not just a Fort Mill complex, but you have two super sites,” Cole said.

Banks Street and District office

In addition to the recreation center, the board and town council discussed other properties, including the former downtown district office.

The Fort Mill Town Council previously offered $450,000 for the old district office for use as office space and possibly a new courtroom, but that offer was declined by the district. The district complex was appraised at $860,000.

Now, school board members say they plan to use the former district office for the next few years to house programs that are currently at the Banks Street facility, including adult education and LEAP. Moving district operations out of the Banks Street complex and into the former district office will allow the district the opportunity to sell the Banks Street facility, which is larger, and more costly to maintain and operate.

If the proposed school bond sale passes in April, the district would like to move LEAP into the new Riverview Elementary and Adult Education into the expanded Fort Mill High School.

“So in two years or so, the old district office will be totally freed up,” said White.

At that point, White said, he hoped the town might be in a position to consider buying the property or work out a trade with the district. As an example, White said, the town could give the district a break on water tap fees when it prepares to build a new school and in exchange, receive a reduced price on the former district office.

“We have the money, but we’d rather do the trade,” he said.

All district programs and services remaining at the Banks Street building will be moved to the former district office by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, White estimated. The district has already approached Leroy Springs & Co., which owns the adjacent piece of property on Banks Street, to gauge its interest in purchasing the facility. The district would also be open to the possibility of a land swap in this case, White said, if Clear Springs, the development arm of LSC, had a piece of property the district could use.

“We thought they might be interested in owning all the way up to the corner. We’re in preliminary talks, but not to the point of negotiations back and forth,” White said.

He added that the school board plans to ensure the Fort Mill Care Center, housed at the Banks Street facility, has adequate time to find a new home if the Banks Street property change hands.

LSC also owns the popular recreation complex on Tom Hall Street near Springfield Parkway. The town is in the middle of a lease agreement to run most of the programs at the complex. LSC previously sought a re-zoning of the complex property, which includes multi-use playing fields, a tennis court, a weight room, dance and cheer programs and meeting space, to position itself for residential and retail redevelopment.

The town council tabled that request.

To read more about the Banks Street facility, click here.

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