The Cobb County School Board could use eminent domain to acquire property it would use to house a softball field and tennis court.

Cobb schools could use eminent domain for softball field, tennis court

The Cobb County School Board could use a controversial method to acquire property needed to bring back the softball field and tennis court to the Walton High School property.

The board might invoke eminent domain to acquire land across a road from the school — a move intended to satisfy concerns that the school could be violating Title IX laws by keeping its softball team’s field in a public park off campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 bars discrimination based on sex in educational programs or other activities that receive federal funding.

School board member Charisse Davis, whose post includes Walton High School, said the 15-acre site is needed “to make sure we are providing facilities for all our students athletes.” When the Cobb school district in 2015 began rebuilding Walton, the tennis court and softball fields on the campus were absorbed into the project. Both teams have since been holding practices and home games at Terrell Mill Park.

Board members on Nov. 14 will vote whether to proceed with eminent domain to acquire two pieces of property at 1495 Pine Road and 1550 Pine Road across from the school, district spokeswoman Nan Kiel said. Kiel said the land would be used “to give all students access to high-quality athletic fields.”

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Eminent domain can be used by the government to condemn private property to redevelop for a public use. The process is 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.

Cobb tax assessor records show both sites are owned by Thelma McClure, who could not be reached for comment. The school district has offered a little more than $3 million for the property, which has been appraised for 10 percent less and “has most recently been used as a garbage disposal service,” Kiel said.

School board member Davis said using eminent domain is “not something we take lightly.”

“Our obligation is to offer a fair price for the property and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Davis said.

While the Walton Fast Pitch Softball Booster Club does not have an opinion on eminent domain, the group would be disappointed if the school board took this route, said Robyn Webb, a Chamblee attorney who specializes in Title IX cases hired by the club.

Webb said the school district promised to rebuild the facilities for the softball students, but their families have had little or no response on when they should expect their field to return to Walton. “We are very pleased that there is any movement at all towards reconstruction,” she said.

Webb said the eminent domain process would be lengthy, adding to the time it will take to come up with a design and construction of a softball field.

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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 added girls are not afforded 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.

“It’s not the same by any stretch of the imagination as to what the boys are able to play on on campus,” she said.

Webb said one plan to make things equitable would be to possibly retrofit the baseball field into softball uses since both the teams do not practice and play during the same semester. This could solve the problem if the girls not having the same access to lockers, showers and other amenities the baseball team enjoys.

“We need something done right away to give these girls what they are entitled to,” she said.

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