Valley Head High School’s baseball team will have to play every home game on a field other than their own this season.
Tuesday the board of education heard from Valley Head athletics booster club president Dave Vest about what he called the town’s “unique situation” concerning sports facilities. Vest said the school had been using the field at the Hammondville Park, but that the park has since become a liability and can no longer be used.
“The field got to the point where it needed a lot of renovations,” Vest said. “It wasn’t standard anymore because the size of it was smaller than regulation. When Dr. Barnett [DeKalb County School Superintendent] got elected, I reached out to him and asked him if there would be any funding from the county to help renovate that field, and that was in 2017.”
Vest said Barnett advised him the field was owned by the town of Hammondville and the town of Valley Head would have to enter into a lease agreement with the town of Hammondville in order to come to move forward with the process.
Vest said he reached out to the town of Hammondville and went to two council meetings to see what the appropriate steps would be to take next. He said Heath Kirby, Valley Head principal, also attended the council meetings to present the council with a lease.
Vest said there was some language in the lease that the town of Hammondville would not come to agreement on.
“It seemed like neither party could agree on it,” Vest said. “It got to the point this summer that the town of Hammondville started doing some work on the field, and at Christmas time they decided they wanted to put some Christmas lights up.
“Sand Mountain Co-Op came out and put the lights up, and at that point the Co-Op looked at the poles the lights were on and they deemed them a liability and said that nobody should play on that field because it was a hazard.
Vest said, at that time, he reached out to Barnett again and told him about the situation.
“I couldn’t get an answer on what needed to be done and baseball season is about to start,” Vest said. “At that time, the town was liable, so they decided they wanted to cut the light poles down and that left us without a field to play on.”
Vest said the situation has “rocked on” for two years with no outcome.
“This has rocked on from 2017 and nobody can seem to come to an agreement about what to do,” he said. “My question is ‘what is the board going to do to help in this situation?’ Because I went to two council meetings and their lawyer told me that the last lease agreement that was presented was standard. She told me that every municipality in the county uses the same insurance company.”
Vest said Valley Head School is “unique” because it is the only school in the county that doesn’t have either a field on school grounds or a city-furnished field.
“I am just trying to look out for the kids and I want to know what the county’s responsibility is at this point,” he said. “I just want an answer and some help from you [the board].”
Vest said that money from state representatives has been donated but can not be used until the lease is situated. He also said that Barnett gave a rough dollar amount that the board could and would spend if only an agreement could be reached.
Barnett said he agreed with Vest.
“This has been drawn out and has lasted for longer than it should have,” Barnett said. “There was some language in the lease agreement that our attorneys said we were going to have to work on. I called our attorney and asked to send us something that should substantially provide protection for both parties.”
Barnett said the result of that request was that there was a single agreement that previously worked between two institutes of education and one major city that the attorney provided him with. He said when that one was sent in that the town didn’t agree on it either.
Barnett said it is all a matter of coming up with something containing language that the town of Hammondville and the BOE could both agree on.
“The language in that one we offered them was very clear that they had no liability for it and we [the BOE] had no liability, but it has been an unfortunate situation.”
Vest said the issue has been a burden on him as a parent and that he believes he shouldn’t be responsible for the matters surrounding it.
“My main point is, as a parent, it’s not my responsibility to figure this stuff out,” he said. “Would y’all agree on that, that the school is y’all’s responsibility?”
Board Member Monty Darwin answered Vest’s question.
“The thing is, the cities have also been furnishing these fields for these schools,” Darwin said. “So in some way, your community is also responsible for some of that, too.”
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “The way I see it, y’all have had the privilege of letting these communities pay for these fields for these schools.”
Darwin said an expansion in the schools has left the BOE with little choice but to utilize the towns’ facilities.
“Our schools have outgrown onto our ball fields,” he said.
“I understand that, and that’s unfortunate,” Vest said. “Again, though, as a parent, it’s not my responsibility.
“I’m not trying to be facetious. All of these football fields are on your property, and a number of other athletic things are on your property. Again, you have been fortunate in the fact that you have had cities that will take care of your ball fields for you. We don’t have that privilege at Valley Head. Hammondville is not Valley Head. It’s a different entity. So, I just want to know what your responsibility is at this point if this can’t come to an agreement. I’m not putting blame on you or the city of Hammondville. I’m just a parent who wants our kids to have a field to play on.”
BOE member Randy Peppers said the help the towns with sports facilities receive doesn’t come from the BOE.
“I see your frustration, but education is our priority for our kids,” he said. “Sports and everything else is extra. When it comes to keeping up fields and all, I believe that any community around here and any school that’s around here that doesn’t have fields on the campus, you’re going to see parents putting a lot of labor into it and a lot of their own money and time into keeping those fields up. The city does a lot and then there is a lot of work put in from the parents. It’s not coming from the board,” he said.
“I didn’t insinuate that it was,” Vest said. “Again, the is a different circumstance. We have been working on that field and we are the ones who have been keeping that field up.”
Peppers asked if the field could be used on the weekends instead.
“I assume you have played on that field in the past and this year is the first year that you have not played on it because of the lights,” he said. “Could you still play on Saturdays with the time change?”
“We have no electricity,” Vest said. “Every town has sent something from a lawyer that says we can’t be on it.”
Barnett said arrangements to use other fields have been made with neighboring schools.
“Looking at things specifically as far as the lease is concerned, we’re not trying to be petty and we’re not trying to be hard to deal with,” Barnett said. “Signing the agreement would have been the easiest thing to do, but we can’t do that until things are worked out with both parties.”
BOE member Robert Elliot said the board has plans to fix the problem.
“We can come up with something,” he said. “I don’t know what we can do right now and we may not can change what you do this year, but I assure you that from what is being done here, Mr. [Brian] Thomas and Dr. Barnett are working as hard as they can to get something done.”
Vest showed his appreciation.
“That’s all we’ve asked,” he said. “It’s been two years and I just wanted something from you guys. If it can’t be agreed on, we will need your help. Thank you.”
Barnett said the board will cooperate.
“We understand it completely,” he said. “Everyone here wants it to work and we’re going to do everything we can to make it work.”