Fort Mill to continue recreation talks as school bond approaches

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMarch 5, 2013 

— As the town and local school district talk possible partnerships to meet recreation needs, Brown Simpson hopes that a decision to help all parties will emerge.

Otherwise, he’s going to have a hard time keeping up.

Last week Simpson, director of Fort Mill’s Parks & Recreation program, updated Town Council on projected needs for the next decade. “At the top of the list,” he said, are more multipurpose fields for programs like tackle football and soccer.

“We’re in dire need of those,” Simpson said.

Part of the solution could come with an April school bond, which would provide more than $25 million for a new Riverview Elementary School on Spratt Street, near Hwy. 21 and Sutton Road. Simpson said rough grading the property could create some multipurpose fields to be used by the district for physical education, then by the town for recreation leagues after school.

Patrick White, chairman of the Fort Mill School Board, has been in talks with the town on a possible partnership there, but said his group’s priority is the school and not creating athletic fields.

“An indirect benefit of the referendum passing would be the availability of cleared land for the Town of Fort Mill to further develop into multipurpose athletic fields,” White said. “When building the new Riverview Elementary, there is a cost benefit to clearing the entire site at one time, which would include the acreage slated for the town’s use.”

Town Councilman Tom Spratt said both quality schools and recreation programs round out “the experience of what Fort Mill is all about” and that it makes sense for the town and school district to help one another. School gymnasiums are another area where both parties can collaborate, he said.

“Ultimately the taxpayers have to foot that,” Spratt said. “Anything we can do to get the most out of taxpayer money is something we’re anxious to look at.”

Council asked the town recreation committee, chaired by Spratt, last week to look into the needs assessment presented by Simpson. Spratt believes weight rooms and swimming pools are “way down the road” compared to more pressing needs like field space. He’d like to see fields “as generic as possible” so that softball or soccer users could share with football or lacrosse.

“We want to provide every opportunity,” Spratt said.

The town is waiting to see how the bond vote will turn out, but will continue discussions in committee up to and beyond that time, too. The bond won’t make or break overall collaborative efforts, Spratt said.

“The idea of the partnership with the school district is an ongoing, long-term arrangement,” he said. “While we are supportive of their efforts with this bond, our partnership is not necessarily tied into the success or the failure of the bond.”

The latest town renderings at the Riverview site show four fields – two larger and two smaller – with parking. One larger field would run lengthwise along Spratt Street with the other three perpendicular, one smaller field offset behind a larger one. The fields may be lighted, Simpson said.

“When you look at growth patterns the last 20 years in Fort Mill, definitely it costs a lot of money to buy property,” he said. “This is a grand opportunity to extend our relationship with the school district.”

Simpson said a new, permanent gym for basketball and volleyball is another major feature of the 10-year needs plan he discussed with Council.

The recreation basketball season that just ended brought in nearly 900 children. Games were played at the Recreation Complex at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, the Banks Street gym that houses the Parks & Rec Department and several schools, including both town high schools on a rotating basis.

Simpson is hopeful that the public entities continue working together. Both for his group at present, but also for the schools like the high schools now hosting his younger players in league play.

“It’s the future of their programs,” Simpson said.

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