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School Board, city eye swap of Berkeley Park and Edwards Park

The city of Hendersonville would swap the 60-acre Berkeley Park for the Edwards Park and Scout hut property at Five Points if the Board of Commissioners, School Board and City Council approve the deal.

The first step in a complicated legal route to make it happen hit a hurdle Wednesday morning, however, when County Commissioner Michael Edney cautioned that the school system may need the two-acre Edwards Park land to either expand Bruce Drysdale Elementary School or for extra Hendersonville High School parking.

Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell, who presented the proposed swap to commissioners, said the "first box to check" would be a motion by the Board of Commissioners to declare the Edwards Park property as surplus and unneeded for a county purpose.

"This land is adjacent to existing school property," Edney said. "Until I see something on the long-range plan that says this is not going to be needed, I want to hold off."

After Edney's objection, commissioners agreed to table any action until next month and directed County Manager Steve Wyatt to continue the discussion with City Manager John Connet.

Mayor Barbara Volk confirmed that discussions got under way when the School Board approached the city with the property swap idea. The City Council is open to the idea because it could use the Five Points property for a new Fire Station 1 and because it can't afford a multi-million dollar investment to improve Berkeley Park.

"We said, 'Yes, we might be interested,' so we are waiting to hear more from the School Board if they're really serious about this," she said.

The city staff's original plan to replace Fire Station 1 at its current site triggered a firestorm of protest when the public learned the new headquarters would mean the removal or relocation of the Laura Corn Mini-golf course.

Caldwell said the school system has identified plenty of need for the park, which is land Kimberly Clark donated to the city in 2008 with the stipulation that it be used for public recreation. The Hendersonville High School baseball team could play its home games at the historic Berkeley Park stadium — built for the Berekley Spinners industrial league baseball team in 1949 — and the School Board over time could add a girls' softball diamond and tennis courts for Bearcat varsity sports. The public would have use of the improved park when the schools aren't using it, Caldwell said. Attorneys for the city and School Board would guide a due diligence process to ensure that the School Board's use of the property met the conditions Kimberly-Clark set when it donated the land. Connet has suggested that the city has buildings the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts could use, Caldwell said.

The city commissioned an ambitious master plan to develop the park in 2013 but has never managed to appropriate money to move forward with it. The $4.3 million plan called for a new gateway into the park, a baseball complex, soccer field, a "destination" playground, picnic areas, a memorial tree garden, an overlook garden, dog park, 3½ miles of walking trails and a connection to the Oklawaha Greenway. Except for the greenway connection, no improvements have been achieved. City voters overwhelmingly rejected a $6 million bond issue in 2013 that would have funded park improvements.

"We would love to have been able to develop Berkeley Park but it is way beyond our budget," Volk said. "We've tried for various grants and we've been turned down for all of them. The question was how long do we hang onto it, really not doing anything with it."

If the School Board can provide ballfields and tennis courts, the public will benefit without regard to the park's ownership, she added.