The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners took action Thursday night which will ensure that an athletic field in the city will continue to be used for baseball programs over the next 10 years at least.
Its 5-0 vote to renew a lease for Graham Field on Jones School Road capped off an eight-month process with the Surry County government that grew contentious at times, during which Mount Airy officials sought ownership of the lighted facility.
The county possesses the property containing the field, which once was part of J.J. Jones School, a former all-black campus that now is home to L.H. Jones Family Resource Center and a variety of community programs hosted there.
A group of citizens in Mount Airy led by the late Scott Graham developed the baseball field completed in 2002, which involved sizable investments of money, time and other resources.
After Graham Field was established, the city used it for recreational purposes for several years afterward before formalizing that through a lease forged with Surry County in April 2007 — which expired this year. As part of that pact, the municipality agreed to assume a $15,000 promissory note from an entity known as Friends of Baseball Inc. dating from 2003, which in 2007 had a balance of $6,000.
The city government has maintained liability insurance coverage for Graham Field; undertaken renovations, alterations and other improvements to its buildings and grounds; and provided for the maintenance of those.
This financial and other input by Mount Airy and its residents for a facility within the municipal limits prompted the city effort to gain ownership of Graham Field on the occasion of the 10-year lease expiring earlier this year.
But while Mount Airy officials thought that move was justified, particularly commissioners Jim Armbrister and Jon Cawley, the majority of county leaders didn’t consider it beneficial as a whole to Surry taxpayers, whose money was used to buy the school grounds.
The issue went back and forth between the two sides for months, leading to Thursday night’s action by the city commissioners to simply renew the lease for another 10 years, which will expire on Sept. 30, 2027. They did so with no discussion.
Mayor David Rowe said earlier this week that the idea of city ownership hopefully will be rekindled in the future, because he thinks Mount Airy has a legitimate claim on Graham Field.
Under the terms of the lease, the “tenant” (Mount Airy) will continue to maintain liability insurance to cover all activities on the Graham Field premises in an amount not less than $1 million, plus cover all utility bills.
It further stipulates that any renovation, improvement or alteration of the buildings or grounds there is to be done at the “sole cost” of the city and require advance written approval from the “landlord” (the county).
Mount Airy is to continue organizing, overseeing and operating recreation programs at Graham Field during the term of the lease, and has “no authority” to assign the lease or sublet any part of the property to another entity without county consent.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.