The status of a 71-acre site donated by Mrs. Eugene Casey to the Salvation Army and intended for “educational use” in Clarke County was a topic of interest for several organizations at last night’s Clarke County School Board meeting. While there was disagreement about why the property has yet to be dedicated to its intended use, there was no disagreement that the property is still wanted by many and that a potential solution to the impasse between the School Board and the Salvation Army may be on the horizon.
The discussion regarding the status of the 71-acre parcel, part of a larger Clarke County property that the Salvation Army hopes to subdivide with the consent of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, began with Boyce resident Todd Ellis’s plea for School Board support for his 300 member Clarke County Youth Football League.
“We are highly interested in nine acres of land and would be very thankful for all that you can do to provide us with the opportunity to build what we want to build there,” Ellis said.
Ellis told the School Board that his organization had a dire need for proper fields, equipment, and coaching and that the potential Salvation Army land donation held the key to achieving the needed improvements for his young football players.
Ellis outlined his vision for a youth football stadium and practice fields built with privately raised funds. Ellis also offered the possibility that the facility could generate school funds through a public-private collaboration.
“This could be a very viable business endeavor for the schools given the potential gate receipts, concession sales, and the sale of hats, sweatshirts, and jerseys,” Ellis said.
Ellis said that the need for better facilities was due, in part, to concussions and other injuries caused by old helmets and poorly maintained playing fields, but also said that better play facilities will produce better players.
“You can’t send a child into a concert as a violin player without having had proper instruction,” Ellis said. “The same is true for football. Clarke County can’t expect to create a great products without proper instruction, proper equipment, proper fields and proper coaching.”
At the conclusion of Ellis’s remarks, School Board Chairman Barbara Lee (Millwood) closed the public comment period and presented a letter received earlier in the day from the Salvation Army in response to an April 4th, 2011 letter from the School Board reaffirming its desire to receive the 71-acre tract.
Reading from the letter, Lee said that the Salvation Army’s reply stated that the “educational use” site cannot be created until the Salvation Army’s present subdivision application has been approved by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.
“The Salvation Army cannot and will not make any decision until the subdivision has been approved,” Lee read. “While the Salvation Army does not wish to revisit the serious misunderstandings about the previous offer to donate the 70+ acres to be used to build a new high school, letter responses in 2008 to Robina Bouffault clearly outline the Salvation Army’s position so there can be no misunderstanding of the Salvation Army’s intent to gift the property for the Clarke County High School site.”
“For reasons unknown to the Salvation Army, the potential gift was declined by Clarke County in May 2008 and another site was purchased. “
The letter concludes that the Salvation Army’s correspondence included language that the future subdivision needed to be approved before any decision on the gift could be made.
After Lee completed reading the letter aloud, School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) immediately took exception to the content of the letter.
“There’s some misinformation being forwarded here.” Bouffault said.
Bouffault recounted a March 2008 letter that she says was sent by the school board recording property plats for the property after being approved by the Board of Supervisors as required by the Salvation Army.
“There were certainly no conditions that the subdivision site had to be approved prior to the gift,” Bouffault said. “The gift was supposed to be done immediately after the approval of all permits.”
Bouffault described in detail having the plot maps notarized on March 28, 2008, so that the land gift could be recorded. However, Bouffault said that there was no further progress after that point.
“I have a copy of a letter that you all received,” Bouffault said. “We never received any response [from the Salvation Army] whatsoever.”
Despite the confusion around the past history associated with the property gift, signals from the Salvation Army appear to still favor the Clarke County School division as the “educational use” intended by Mrs. Casey. Additionally, the Salvation Army’s subdivision application appears headed for approval by the Clarke County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors as a “by-right” land use application. Assuming no unexpected events create delays for the application, the Salvation Army will soon be in a position to make a final determination on the property once the subdivision approval process has been completed.
“I think that this letter is a misrepresentation of the facts,” Bouffault repeated. “But since they are again saying that the gift is contingent on subdivision approval and since they have made an application that appears complete, then there should be no reason why they shouldn’t donate the 71-acres as promised.”