The mood seemed mostly positive after a meeting Thursday night in which the county tried to sell South Knoxvillians on bringing a BMX course to South-Doyle Middle School.
Money for the bicycle-racing course – which would be constructed in the infield of South-Doyle’s football stadium – has already been allocated by Mayor Tim Burchett to the tune of $750,000, and most people view the project as a fait accompli. But county Parks & Recreation chief Doug Bataille did a good job of calming fears and assuaging concerns about the plans among the 100-plus SoKno residents attending the meeting at the middle school.
SDMS originally was built to merge South and Young high schools, and its campus and buildings follow the plans for a high school more than that of a middle school. Bataille displayed site plans that showed where a soccer field and football field would be constructed to the west side of the school buildings.
A baseball field already exists next to the stadium. Additional soccer facilities are available at Dogwood Elementary School. Knox County doesn’t have middle-school leagues for those sports, but there are active rec leagues for all three.
Rock outcroppings in the proposed new fields beg the question of how much rock would need to be removed, but Bataille said the Public Works Department would be leading the construction project, and any rock unearthed would have to be moved only a short distance for use in landscaping Baker Creek Preserve or to build track in the Urban Wilderness.
Bataille pointed out that BMX became an Olympic sport in 2008, and that it has seen 5 percent growth over the past five years. High schools and middle schools have teams, and the sport is increasingly popular with families.
A top-notch BMX course at SDMS would be used by all teams from throughout Knox County Schools, and it would be a draw for regional and national events. No other middle school in Tennessee has a comparable BMX facility, and it would be a sought-after rarity thanks to its stadium seating, which could accommodate the crowds the sport is attracting.
Several local BMX enthusiasts spoke up about the advantages of building the course. Leaders from other sports who initially were against the project – and were vocal about it at a meeting last fall – said that the assurances of new fields and the idea of adding another sport to engage young people had brought them on board.
County Commissioner Carson Dailey said that part of the budget would be used for badly needed repairs to the parking lot, and both he and school board representative Amber Rountree were excited over an agreement to place any unused funds from the project into an account specifically for SDMS, not a general schools fund.
Plans also include new restrooms and a new concession stand, amenities that the county would not otherwise add.
The BMX course would not be used during school hours. Bataille said there would be two practice nights a week and racing on weekends, in addition to usage during periods where the school was closed – during the summer and possibly during fall and spring breaks.
Safety City, operated by the city of Knoxville, is also under consideration as a BMX site, but Bataille made it clear that SDMS is the preferred site.
He said, if the public supports the project, construction would begin this summer with a hoped-for 2018 opening.