At the last Wharton City Council meeting, the closing of city streets as they affect the area around Tiger Field was an item that had been brought for discussion initially back in February.
It came three months after voters approved a $59 million Wharton ISD bond in November 2018.
At that Feb. 25 regular council meeting, elected officials listened to Wharton ISD Superintendent Tina Herrington.
That meeting agenda read as follows: request for the waiver of fees or reduced fees for required permits for the 2018 bond project and the street closures at North Abell Street (entire length from East Belle Street to East Ahldag Avenue) and Old Boling Highway (from John Knox Street to North Alabama Road). The council approved to waive city fees for permits.
The requests, Herrington said, were to improve parking for the proposed Baseball/Softball Complex, the same site where Tiger Field is located along Old Boling Highway. The other request for street closure, which included newfound Wako Road, was for students to safely access a proposed agriculture project center and access to the athletic fieldhouse.
At the Monday, July 22 meeting when the issue was brought up again, the agenda read as follows: request from WISD for the abandonment of Old Boling Road from Alabama to John Know Street and a section of North Abell Street from East Ahldag Street to East Belle Avenue.
The council voted 3-2 to abandon those streets, Councilmen Terry Freese and Don Mueller voted against the motion, while councilmen Clifford Jackson, Russell Machann and Steven Schneider, voted yes.
Councilwoman Alice Heard-Roberts did not attend the July meeting.
Gwyneth Teves, who is the city’s community development director, said the city’s Public Works Committee, which includes Freese, Mueller and Jackson, recommended to the council that it not abandon these streets. Teves reminded the council that it has the final say in this matter.
It appeared that Old Boling Highway was now a point of contention, even after architectural plans for Wharton ISD were revised because of the flood plain, and electricity and water easements were met.
Herrington was asked to weigh the pros and cons of closing Old Boling Highway. She repeated what she said in February. She was also told a parking lot could be constructed without the city streets being abandoned. She said it could but it would alter the original parking lot plans including the lighting.
Another point of contention by the council was how the new WISD development could alter the future thoroughfare plans of FM 1301.
Questions that were raised by the council in February and this month were repeated several times in advance of the WISD bond election when administrators hosted numerous community meetings across Wharton with architectural renderings in hand. It didn’t appear, based on the questions that were asked by council in February and July, that leaders attended any of those WISD community meetings.
Herrington said the following in February:
“We would like to ask you to convey the road to (Wharton ISD) so we could take the grass and the road, combine it and make some very nice parking for the complex. We would still have an exit point and we wouldn’t have through traffic. This would give us the necessary depth that we need to give valuable street parking for the complex. Our objective is to be in the playoffs but also host many playoff events here. We want to be the destination town for many sports and for people to come into our community and buy gas here, buy food here. Having the complex on Boling Highway will be a nice draw for the city.”
What Herrington didn’t have in February that she had this month was a letter from First Presbyterian Church showing support of the project, something City Manager Andres Garza said was important. Easements was something else that WISD needed from the city, Garza added.
In February, Herrington explained to council that vehicles used to pick up students from Sivells Elementary School would still be able to utilize the new and improved road and it would be more controlled since it wouldn’t be a through street.
She told the council that a softball field would be constructed between the back of Sivells ES and where the current baseball field is at. She explained that that there would be one main entrance into the complex from a lighted parking. She told them she has fallen several times walking to and from the parking lot because it’s too dark.
In May, the Wharton ISD Board of Trustees were told the development of the Baseball/Softball Complex will have a price tag of $3.2 million for overall project costs. Construction cost is $2.8 million. The parking lot is included in the bond package.