After bids for the proposed gymnasium in Church Hill’s new Holliston Mills Park came back nearly twice as high as pre-COVID estimates, the council of mayor and aldermen voted to pursue other options.
Grant management consultant Evan Sanders of Community Development Partners addressed council at its Feb. 15 meeting and indicated that since the city received a state grant for this project, the city should seek a another way to use the rest of the grant money. If the city simply returned the unused portion of the grant to state coffers, Church Hill could potentially be overlooked for future grants.
Although the BMA initially budgeted around $1 million for the gymnasium, the lowest of several bids came back in December 2021 at around $2 million.
About the park
The new 65-acre Church Hill Park was originally slated to include a gym, ball diamonds, walking paths, playgrounds, boat launch and possibly even a campground .
The property is bordered by the Norfolk Southern Railroad, the Holston River and Holliston Mills Road.
Phase 1 of the project included the construction of a public level crossing over the railway tracks within the park property. This process took longer than expected and encountered several delays.
Phase 2 was to include construction of the gymnasium and parking lot.
Church Hill purchased the property in 2015 and received a $500,000 State Parks Grant in 2016 for the completion of the access road and first gymnasium. This grant included a matching $500,000 from the city for a total of $1 million to work with.
“You Can’t Just Walk Away”
Sanders told the BMA that the state gives a two-year contract term on grants such as this. Those two years were originally supposed to have expired, but the state gave the city some extra time and issued a new contract due to delays in building the crossing.
However, now that the gym’s bids have returned well above what the grant will pay, the city must decide how to proceed.
Sanders noted that the state would allow the city to just make up the difference and go ahead with the $2 million gymnasium, but that would require local $1 million (in addition to the $500,000 match). already included in the grant).
They can also choose to return the remaining grant money, but Sanders noted that this option “would put the city in a position where you can’t get future grants until you take care of the upgrades you initially have.” proposed. [but now] 100% at your own expense.
He added: “It’s a pretty tough blow.”
He noted that the state has also offered to allow Church Hill to keep the remaining grant money (about $930,000 remains) and simply change the scope of the gymnasium project to something similar that is more affordable. It would simply require the city to submit a new request for proposal.
“My concern is that this funding agency is very specific in their requirements of what you can and cannot do,” Sanders said. “Once you’ve spent their money – and some of it has already been spent – you can’t just say ‘I want to get away from [the project].’ They want to make sure something is done to fulfill the original scope of the project.
He added: “It’s something I haven’t had them do before, but they really try to help with the issues.”
Some of the options Sanders suggested to the city included a picnic pavilion or playground.
He noted that the state funding agency (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) offers some of the best grant opportunities for municipalities.
“You want to be in the game for potential future phases of development, so it’s important to make sure you’re jumping through the hoops that they want us to do on the existing project,” Sanders told the board. .
In the end, the board voted unanimously to accept the state’s offer to change the scope of the project.
As a result, the state will issue the city a new contract for a further two-year period to spend the remainder of the grant.
Sanders noted that the city needs to choose its new project on which to spend the rest of the grant “as soon as possible.”
“It’s exciting that we can go in a different direction,” Mayor Dennis Deal told the board. “We can take baby steps in the first phase – access road, toilets, parking lot.”
Church Hill withdraws from common recreation
The primary use of the gymnasium was originally proposed for sports leagues within the Church Hill/Mount Carmel/Surgoinsville Joint Recreation Commission. Currently, these leagues use county school facilities for indoor sports.
However, Holliston Mills Park has been cited as one of the main reasons the Church Hill BMA voted in January to withdraw from the Joint Recreation Board without much prior discussion.
Church Hill will officially leave the board in January 2023.
At the January meeting, Vice Mayor Michael Bell’s motion said only that the decision was made because of “the direction the city is taking with our new park (in Holliston Mills) and to the extent that we can take our own decisions. Just the city itself.
The decision was highly controversial, and the mayors of Mount Carmel and Surgoinsville and the president of Joint Recreation openly opposed the decision.
However, the mayors of the three cities told the Review that whatever happens with the Joint Recreation Council, children from the three municipalities will always be welcome in each city’s recreation programs.