Roy Exum: Brentwood Goes "Signal" And We Get Topped By Williamson County Sports Visionaries

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Brentwood is one of Tennessee’s wealthiest communities and is the glittering star of Williamson County. But with Nashville growing by leaps and bounds, all is not warm and fuzzy in the land of milk and honey. Brentwood is on the verge of "pulling a Signal Mountain."

That’s what they are calling "Study Brentwood," the first step in the city of Brentwood leaving the Williamson County school district. What is odd is that Brentwood has little in common with Memphis, where six "districts" were started in 2014 when the Shelby County city and county schools merged, or with Signal Mountain’s current study of bolting from the Hamilton County district.

In Shelby County 59 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged. In Hamilton County, none of the 35 percent who are economically disadvantaged are from Signal Mountain – thus the threat because the consensus is that the poor take funds away from what the mountain residents feel they should be getting.

But Brentwood is completely different. Just four percent of its students are disadvantaged but this rage comes from the fact over-crowded schools are causing middle school students to eat lunch at 9:45 a.m. and those whose children are being rezoned are mad. Brentwood enjoys the best public education in the state but now the community has been told to expect 10,000 additional students within the next five years.

Brentwood is already "built out," with zoning requirements that allow only one dwelling per acre, but with Nashville's phenomenal growth, every penny must be used to build new schools to accept the influx in other parts of the county. Brentwood says its aging buildings need repairs, to heck with the $18 million just budgeted to expand the middle and high school.

The angry townsfolk claim the 20-person County Commission got lazy at developing long-term financial plans. "We want to see our option and understand what is possible," said Study Brentwood committee member David Brooks in the Nashville Tennessean.

Committee head Grady Tabor insists there are just two questions: "Can we do a (local) school system and ‘should’ we do a local system. Right now we just want the ‘can’ part answered. Just like Signal Mountain, factions are split. And even Governor Bill Haslam is in on the Brentwood argument.

"I tend to think the whole secession idea — I hate to see us get carried away with that," Haslam allegedly told some reporters last week. "There's always been a benefit to communities that are all part of one area, and being a community together, and figuring out our problems, whether it be rural schools or urban schools, or whatever the challenges may be."

* * *

There are many things I don’t understand and I am grateful I can recognize it most of the time. But color me perplexed over the push-back in the community over a sports complex in East Ridge. Just over 2,000 votes on Chattanoogan.com were evenly split in the question: "Should a larger sports complex be built at Camp Jordan in East Ridge using taxes from the Bass Pro Shop development?"

To me it is a no-brainer. East Ridge’s Camp Jordan is a perfect spot and, with Stump Martin’s expertise in managing the site, we should have broken ground by now. A few critics are worried that flooding could cause havoc with the artificial turf playing areas but the manufacturers of today’s synthetic surfaces laugh at any such notion. Ditto for the eight-lane all-weather track.

The biggest reason to move forward – and I’m talking immediately – is because Chattanooga is falling behind in too many areas. In Williamson County (think Brentwood, Franklin, Spring Hill) they just did a feasibility study for a sports complex because the fast-growing county is expected to have an influx of 350,000 additional people in the next 25 years. (Yes, 350,000 is currently the entire population of Hamilton County.)

The feasibility study came back suggesting two complexes. Remember, we are talking about a $15 million complex at Camp Jordan so Williamson County believes $125 million makes better sense. (You can download the study at www.williamsonco-tn.gov).

* -- The INDOOR facility will have 10 basketball courts, 20 volleyball courts, two ice sheets for regulation hockey, two indoor turf fields for regulation football and soccer, and parking for 1,200 cars. The projected price is $65.93 million.

* -- The OUTDOOR facility will have 21 multipurpose fields, 12 softball and baseball diamonds and parking for another 3,600 cars. The projected price is $60.96 million.

Of course, Williamson County’s thinking is they want to be the regional player. They want to draw from the entire state and want to appeal to travel teams all over the South. Gordon Hampton, the Williamson County recreation director, says the trend is for bedroom communities outside big metro areas to build huge sports complexes.

"They are a great perk for the citizens during the week and then they keep restaurants and hotels full on the weekends," he told the Nashville newspaper, adding Williamson County is looking at 2 million hotel nights in a 20-year plan that will generate $36.85 million in hotel-motel taxes alone.

Hamilton County has fallen behind other mid-sized cities in tapping the weekend sports travel market. Outside Atlanta there is a complex being built with a price tag in excess of $100 million but in Chattanooga there is not a track that could host a college meet. It is easy to say Chattanooga’s participation-sports facilities are the in the bottom 10 percent of comparable cities in the South.

If you aren’t moving forward, you are unwittingly moving the other way in today’s world. Nobody stands still any more.

royexum@aol.com



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