Cleveland City Council Votes 3-2 To Move Forward On Replacing Cleveland High Gym; City Manager Warns Action Could "Shut The City Down"

Monday, March 10, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

The Cleveland City Council on Monday voted to fund the demolition of the old Cleveland High School gym and to start funding the construction of the new gym out of the City Council's reserve balance rather than try to raise taxes. Several members said they could borrow money later in the process if it becomes necessary.

The situation involving the structurally degrading Cleveland High School gymnasium was declared an emergency by the City Council and the Cleveland Board of Education during the Monday afternoon City Council meeting.

Dr. Martin Ringstaff presented an estimate of costs to demolish the old dome building and to move the utilities. He said in total, the project would range from approximately $250,000 to $280,000. The estimate for building the new facility is $12 million.

However, not everyone agreed that using the reserve balance was the best solution. City Manager Janice Casteel told the Council, "If you spend $12 million out of your reserve fund, you are going to shut the city down." She said the reserve fund consisted of $12.3 million.

Mrs. Casteel continued, "If you want a gym, you have to pay for it. If you take it from your reserves, you won't be able to fund your ongoing projects. We have never budgeted to dip into our fund balance."

She pointed out that the School Board had previously said it could not dip into its own fund balance.

Councilman David May agreed, saying it would not only "break the city," but also "make the bond rating go flat."

Councilman George Poe Jr. said, "I think this is an emergency situation. We have a facility that's unstable. I feel like we should use emergency money and put it back later."

Councilman Richard Banks said he knew it would be difficult, but the city would not have to pay it all at once. He also said the council would never have the votes for a tax increase or vehicle registration fee.

Mayor Tom Rowland pointed out that because of the building's deteriorating condition, it could also become an issue of liability if it fell before the city had it demolished.

It came down to a vote after Councilman Banks made a motion. Councilmen May and McKenzie voted no.

Several Cleveland High School parents also spoke before the vote. One mother said, "I'm a parent, I'm a taxpayer, and a professional volunteer. I spend a lot of time at Cleveland High." She told the Council that the dome was where the Raider family gathered.

She said, "It's where expectations of what it means to be a Cleveland Raider are imparted."

She continued, "This is what's not happening right now because we don't have a venue to do that. We don't have a venue for assemblies. I'm a fiscal conservative, I understand your constraints, but the need is great."

Another mother and former Cleveland High student said her children are also now at CHS. She said her oldest daughter was a basketball player who had colleges interested in her. However, because of the dome not being replaced, she had spent her entire senior season playing at other locations. She also said it made it difficult for scouts to come watch her play.

She told the council she could not pay for her children to go to college but that they were working on receiving athletic scholarships as she had done.

A Cleveland High father emphasized that sports were also an important part of the community because they mold character. He said his daughter, also a basketball player, had dreamed of playing for Cleveland for a long time.       

Councilman Dale R. Hughes said, "I agree that it is an emergency. We have a situation that has impaired or diminished both the programs at the middle school as well as at the high school." He said having the the middle and high school share the middle school gym was creating lots of scheduling conflicts.

Councilman Banks said it was creating a "negative impact on our whole city."

During the meeting, an upgrade to certain city traffic lights on State Highway 60, particularly on 25th Street and Georgetown Road, was also discussed.

Allan Childress gave the presentation, saying so far the upgrades had been a success. He said economic benefits in terms of delay reduction, emissions, and fuel reduction would total around $1,091,225 annually.

A public hearing was also held for the creation of an Interstate Gateway Corridor Overlay Zoning District, which is designed to eventually be adopted for corridors around exits 20, 25, and 27.




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