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Equestrian building: Board it up, renovate it, or burn it down?
Equestrian building on the Polo Fields property. Photo courtesy Forsyth County government.

Commissioners raced against time to purchase the Polo Fields and approve a lease agreement for United Futbol Academy, hurrying as soccer season was approaching in August.

While the fields were able to continue hosting soccer games, a portion of the land was left without a tenant: about nine acres with stables and a riding area for equestrian activities.

On that side of the property sits a building that is over 35 years old, according to parks and recreation director Jim Pryor, that would have continued to dilapidate if not for commissioners approving the procurement process to remove the structure.

At a work session on Tuesday, Nov. 22, commissioners discussed three different options for the stable following a presentation from Pryor.

According to Pryor, after advertising a request for a lease agreement with equestrian-related companies, the county received only one bid for $32,000 a year contingent upon the county fixing the problems with the facility.

In the rush to “get [the Polo Fields] ready for public use” and keep expenses low, Pryor said a facility assessment was not done on the stable which has “[disintegrating]” insulation and drywall, roof and gutter damage and black mold.

The facility also includes a public bathroom that has a very narrow doorway.

“I actually have to turn sideways to scoot into that bathroom,” Pryor said. “If it’s open to the public, it has to be ADA [compliant].”

The cost to renovate the building would be between $600,000 and $800,000 Pryor said, and possibly even more.

The first option for the equestrian side of the property is to do the necessary renovations for a tenant to move in.

The second is to board up the building and leave it alone. However, the cost of this would be about $20,000, and the building could become subject to vandalism, further dilapidation and squatters.

And third, Pryor said, commissioners could approve demolition of the building, which would cost about $175,000 for proper equipment removing mold, taking out utilities and getting rid of the surrounding fences.

Pryor said the dilemma was sent to the parks and recreation board, whose members recommended approval of the third option. County staff was also in support of that solution.

Funding for demolition would come from the park and recreation department’s contingency fund, which holds about $300,000-$400,000 Pryor said.

“We have to be prudent with the taxpayers’ money,” District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents this area, said during discussion of this item.

County Manager Kevin Tanner told commissioners that Levent was first in favor of option two “because of the community concerns … that go along with it.”

Tanner said he recognized the equestrian building has been a landmark in the Polo Fields area and residents could be upset about removing it.

Levent said he was concerned nearby residents would “get on social media and … turn this into something it’s not.”

He also said he had hoped the county could wait to remove or fix the building until after the surrounding community had had the opportunity to weigh in on the future master plan of the park, getting involved in the process and seeing the potential asset the park could become.

However, in the meantime, Levent said it might be “irresponsible to leave a structure up that is rotting and has that much black mold in it.”

Other commissioners joked and asked if the fire department might like to utilize the structure for training.

District 4’s Cindy Jones Mills asked, in an effort to save money: “Can we let [the fire department] have a project out there and them burn it down?”

Chairman Alfred John said the thought “controlled burn” had crossed his mind while District 5’s Laura Semanson asked, “What if we do like our own Burning Man out there?”

Commissioners ultimately decided to go with option three, voting to send the item through the county procurement process for demolition and bring discussion back to the board in late winter or early spring with more information about funding and how this might affect timelines for other park projects.