The Cobb County School Board took the first step in bringing softball and tennis games and practices back to Walton High School, but it could be years before that move will become a reality.
Having the girl’s softball team practice and play off-campus while the boy’s team was still playing on fields at Walton could have put the school in jeopardy with the federal Title IX law, which bars discrimination based on sex in educational programs or other activities that receive federal funding.
School leaders have voted to pay a property owner $3 million for land adjacent to the school, settling a years-long negotiation over the price.
The property at 1495 and 1550 Pine Road will be used to rebuild the tennis courts and softball field on the campus of the East Cobb school. Both were lost in a project to rebuild the school in 2015 and since then both teams have been hosting practices and games at Terrell Mill Park. School officials backed off from an earlier proposal to use eminent domain to acquire the land.
Cobb school board member Charisse Davis, whose post includes Walton, said she was “pleased” with the board’s vote.
“It’s actually been some years in the making, and it was always in the plan that these fields be brought back to campus,” she said. “With limited space options, we did need that property.”
Walton’s Fast Pitch Softball team hired Robyn Webb, a Chamblee attorney who specializes in Title IX cases, who previously said the school district promised to rebuild the facilities at Walton for the softball students, but their families have had little information on when that might happen.
For practices and games, the softball team has to take a bus and carry all of their equipment to Terrell Mill Park, which is about five miles from the Walton campus. The attorney said girls don’t have the same security at the park as the baseball team receives at Walton. For example, one of the softball team members had her bat stolen, and wooden lockers constructed by parents for the team to use at the park were also damaged, Webb said.
Cobb school officials floated the idea of acquiring the property through eminent domain, a process governments can use to condemn private property for public uses. It’s often a last-resort method a government uses when it can’t come to an agreement on the price with a property owner. Many view eminent domain as a tool for government overreach.
Davis said the school board had been negotiating with property owner Thelma McClure McClure for years over the sale price.
“I think there’s a narrative out there that we were trying to kick her out of her home and that’s not the case,” Davis added.
She said McClure was interested in selling the property because she hadn’t lived there for a long time. McClure could not be reached for comment.
Cobb school district spokeswoman Nan Kiel said no timeline or cost has been determined for the project to rebuild both athletic facilities on the campus.
Davis said she expects a timeline to determine the next steps will be determined after the sale is finalized. She said she expects to have more details after the holidays.
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