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City, School Board near agreement on park swap

Map shows a new softball field and tennis courts the School Board would develop and part of Berkeley Park the city would retain under a park swap the City Council will take up. Map shows a new softball field and tennis courts the School Board would develop and part of Berkeley Park the city would retain under a park swap the City Council will take up.

The Henderson County school system would improve the historic Berkeley Mills stadium for use by Hendersonville High School and add a softball field and tennis courts for Bearcat athletics on the property and the city would get ownership of Edwards Park under a land swap agreement the City Council will take up on Wednesday.

City Council members Jeff Miller and Jerry Smith, City Manager John Connet met with School Board chair Blair Craven and vice chair Amy Lynn Holt and schools Superintendent John Bryant to negotiate the details of the park swap during a meeting Jan. 4. The City Council will discuss the agreement at a work session at 5:45 Wednesday. The deal also would enable the city to relocate the Laura E. Corn Mini Golf course from Boyd Park to Edwards Park.

Under the agreement, the School Board would develop Berkeley Park for use by HHS varsity athletics and the public, adding the ballfield and lighted tennis courts, and potentially an aquatic center for use by county schools and the public. The city would keep a small park area on the north side of the property and all the land south of Balfour Road. During the Jan. 4 meeting on the swap, Craven expressed interest in the aquatic center for use by swim teams and the public, according to minutes of the meeting.

The city would allow the Boy Scout and Girl Scout huts to remain at Edwards Park under a lease agreement that would give the scouts responsibility for maintaining the buildings and grounds. An idea City Manager John Connet and the City Council looked at to build a new Fire Station 1 on the Edwards Park and VFW post property next door has been scrapped because the county is close to an agreement to buy the veterans' building.

"At the end of the day the fire station will not go on that property," Connet said Tuesday. "I think our plan is to use that as park spwce and I think ultimately we'll look at opportunities to relocate the Putt Putt over to Edwards Park. The Fire Department will be constructed at its current location. Without being able to acquire the VFW, there's not enough space to build a fire station so we had to go back to the drawing board. If we were going to allow the Boy Scout huts to stay, we had to have the VFW property and we could not reach an agreement there."

"Frankly, the current location of the fire department is a better spot as it relates to the noise and that kind of stuff, not putting it close to that neighborhood."

The old Girl Scout hut does not appear to be salvageable, he said.

"It's in bad shape," he said. "We are working with them to find a permanent location at a city facility."

The School Board will keep ownership of an edge of the property that includes a driveway to Bruce Drysdale Elementary School. The city had originally said it was negotiating the land swap in order to acquire the Edwards Park land for a new Fire Station 1. That plan, which had been back burnered in favor of other capital projects, is not mentioned in a memo or meeting minutes describing the terms of the swap.

Both the School Board and the Board of Commissioners declared the Edwards Park property surplus, a legal requirement under the law before a local government body can sell or swap publicly owned land. Under the agreement, no public money could be used for the Berkeley Park development for five years. Instead, the school system would use private donations and grants for the improvements.

The agreement ensures that the park would be open for recreation by the public when not in use by the county schools. It also permits the city to add a greenway around the outer perimeter of the parkland that the School Board would own. After discussing it on Wednesday, the City Council will take up the agreement for approval on Feb. 4.