County OKs field payment extension

March 15, 2008 

The Beaufort County School District recently agreed to give a foundation established by Bluffton Mayor Hank Johnston a three-year extension to pay back more than $300,000 used to expand Bluffton High School's baseball stadium.

In 2003, Johnston insisted on building an expanded stadium so the town could host community events and possibly a semi-professional team there. The 1,000-seat stadium, named for the mayor, has 400 covered seats -- significantly larger than the 250-seat park originally planned.

Johnston, acting as a private citizen, pledged to raise funds to pay back the school district, which fronted the interest-free money for the extra seats.

That same year, Johnston established the Community Stadium Fund through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. The nonprofit agreed at that time to pay the school district back at a rate of $61,000 a year over five years.

Two $61,000 payments have been made to date: the first in February 2006 and the second in February 2007. The project was originally scheduled to be paid off by 2010.

Under the amended schedule, it will not be paid in full until 2013.

Besides an e-mail confirming the extension, Phyllis White, chief financial officer for the school district, could not be reached despite attemptsthroughout the week to contact her.

Under $10,000 remains in the project's fund, said Carolyn Torgersen of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.

Torgersen said she didn't know when the next payment is due.

Johnston has held fundraisers to collect money for the fund in the past, Torgersen said, but added she didn't know if he was planning other fundraisers soon.

A file provided by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry lists a handful of donors to the fund, including Johnston.

Almost two years ago, Johnston said if the money couldn't be raised through donations, he'd pay the difference, according to an Island Packet article.

Johnston could not be reached despite attempts throughout the week to contact him.

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