Dispute Over School Athletic Field User Fees Could Nix $150,000 Contribution From Johnston Co Commissioners

CLAYTON – Everyone agrees that additional parks, recreation programs, and athletic fields are needed across Johnston County. Should Johnston County citizens pay more than Town of Clayton citizens to use athletic fields at Clayton High School? That’s the center of a dispute between Johnston County Commissioners and the Clayton Town Council.

In May 2021, Clayton High School, in collaboration with Johnston County Public Schools and the Town of Clayton agreed to expand those programs in Clayton. Two high school athletic fields are being updated to synthetic turf along with other improvements to the fields and stadium. The football field has been completed and the soccer field update should be finished later this year.

As part of the agreement, Town of Clayton parks and rec staff will maintain the athletic fields.

Clayton High Principal Bennett Jones said costs have skyrocketed since funding was originally secured, including $750,000 from Johnston County Public Schools, $500,000 from the Town of Clayton, and $250,000 from the NFL Grassroots Foundation.

On June 6, Principal Jones asked Johnston County Commissioners to either fund $150,000 or $500,000 towards the project. A $150,000 contribution would allow the final field to be completed on time. The larger $500,000 contribution would provide funding to demolish and build a new press box in the stadium and expand bleachers to meet capacity needs.

In a May 3, 2022 letter to commissioners, Principal Jones stated, “The completion of this project would allow for our school to be a host to several community and county partners. After the completion of just the football field, we have hosted community groups such as Clayton Rugby, Neuse River Futbol Alliance, JoCo Arsenal Football, and youth 7-on-7 football tournaments who have all utilized the fields at our school. Next year, we will welcome lacrosse to our school and have available to our community lacrosse team fields for them to utilize. These groups feature residents from across Johnston County and even welcome groups from outside Johnston County which help boost the local economy through their spending in our county.”

“Furthermore, our agreement has allowed county residents to use our tennis courts, fields for youth practices, and community residents to come out and exercise. As our normal day of practice ends at 5:00, the school then opens up our facilities to various groups in the evenings, on weekends, and during non-school days.”

“While the housing market has boomed around the town and county, there is a concern of leaving parts behind in terms of their accessibility to parks due to them being located further away from the downtown areas. The additional of CHS to the parks and recreation program provides opportunities for residents in medium to income housing to access facilities that are in closer proximity to their homes… Clayton High School helps to fit that need while also providing an opportunity to expand programs and bring in tourists and guests for events to further help enhance the local economy in Johnston County.” Mr. Jones said.

“This will all be done as part of the shared agreement meaning that not only is the town benefiting from the usage, but they have committed a significant investment of town money and resources to help care and maintain all of the fields on our campus,” Jones stated.

At the June 6 meeting, Principal Jones requested the full $500,000 amount. Commissioner Fred Smith responded that he thought the request was for $150,000.

Jones replied $150,000 would finish the fields but would not address the need for a new press box and bleachers.

After a brief discussion, Commissioner Smith made a motion to allocate $150,000 towards the project with the stipulation Johnston County residents would pay the same fees to use the Clayton High athletic fields as in-town Clayton residents.

Commissioner Tony Braswell seconded the motion, adding he was okay with out-of-county residents paying a higher rate but agreed with Commissioner Smith, Johnston County residents should not be charged a higher fee than Clayton citizens. The motion passed unanimously.

Johnston County Report reached out to the Town of Clayton to see if they were in agreement with Johnston County Commissioners to charge the same fees for everyone. At this time, it appears they are not.

In a statement, Town of Clayton Communication Director Nathanael Shelton said, “The Town of Clayton engaged in a unique joint venture and use agreement with Johnston County Public Schools on July 1, 2021. This agreement was designed to benefit all residents of Clayton and Johnston County. This partnership has already provided a turf football field, along with a turf soccer field to be completed by Aug. 1, 2022. The Town’s Parks and Recreation Department maintains the fields as part of this agreement, which allows the Parks and Recreation Department to expand its programs and offerings. Currently, the agreement between the Town and Johnston County Public Schools states the following:

Section 2. Common Commitment to Use (c) Town shall provide programs and services that are open to all residents of Johnston County. It is understood and agreed, however, that there may be fees charged by the Town to users of the Board areas. Johnston County residents who live outside the corporate limits of Clayton who are not involved in school activities may be charged fees by the Town that are different from fees charged Clayton citizens. Additionally, Town has the right to set numeric limits on participation in particular activities and events, and to control access in accordance with the Town rules and regulations, with Town citizens having reasonable priority.

“The Town of Clayton continues to be proud of this partnership with the school system. We are pleased to learn of the investment the Johnston County Commissioners plan to make towards the completion of the turf soccer field,” Mr. Shelton stated.

Due to the fact the Town of Clayton may charge higher fees to citizens who live outside the Clayton city limits, the $150,000 check from Johnston County Commissioners may never be issued.

We will continue to follow this story and report on any updates.


  1. Doesn’t surprise me that someone would try and pull a fast one on this community and county. Agreements are agreements. Live up to your end.

    • This is simply another case of one part of the county thinking it’s better than the rest. If anything gets approved by the commissioners, it should be the $150,000 option WITH the stipulation that any county resident pay the same fee as the city people do. Just because people live outside the city limits doesn’t mean they automatically qualify to pay more than someone in Clayton city limits. Y’all are just too big for your britches. Contrary to what Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, “Greed IS NOT good”.

      Be thankful for what was offered, quit being greedy, and let this be a lesson, otherwise, you shouldn’t get one red cent!!

    • By all means, look at your return. The overwhelming majority of police officers, deputies, firefighters, and EMS were educated in the public school system to prepare for life in the real world. A great many of your nurses, many doctors, and thousands of other citizens who daily contribute to the welfare of Johnston County’s residents, who benefit every day from those contributions, , were educated in our public school system, or the public school systems of surrounding counties and even states. Is there room for improvement? Sure. But to call our public school system a ‘burden’ demonstrates an absolute total lack of understanding of the educational system, the history of education in this country, and what the education system accomplishes every day. Maybe you should just say “thank you” to the teachers.

    • TPL — It is sad what we see what the return on our investment is in our public school system. For example, we have woefully undereducated students about government and civics.

  2. Principal jones? I thought the board of education had to request funding since it was over $100,000? Wow Jones thinks he’s someone he’s not.

  3. Demolish press box and a building? That has nothing to do with field usage. Take a hike Jones.

  4. All the tax revenue from these massive new subdivisions should cover the cost, right Jocoproud?

  5. I understand both sides. It’s a deal and rarely do both sides ever walk away happy. The challenge is determining what’s fair and equitable. One idea would be for JOCO to provide the 500k and in return, TOC extends TOC citizen rates to JOCO residents for either a set period of time (3,6,9 yrs ect.) or until the principal is repaid plus points (7,14,21% etc.). If a press box and additional stands are that important and JOCO can make it happen then these seem like reasonable solutions to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

  6. Why should the county be funding any recreational facilities in the town of clayton when they do absolutely nothing to build recreation facilities across the rest of the county? Clayton has the population base to fund whatever it needs through bonds, the rest of the county for most part has nothing to rely on but the county commission and should always take a higher priority.

  7. Look at the model in place now for in town and out of town residents that is used by other towns now. Why force Clayton to do any different. Take the SRAC in Smithfield for example. Just a thought that commissioners got this wrong. I would tell them to keep their money!

    • Just a little about the srac. They do nothing for the kids in Smithfield. Smithfield kids come last at the srac All they care about is church softball. I give it 5 years and you want be able to play baseball on the fields no more.

  8. If all Johnston county taxpayers are funding the school system and the new turf at the field, all residents should have access and pay the same fees as the town. Didn’t think we were doing things like a private club. But then, I believe all school districts should be separated into their own entity. Just thinking put loud.

  9. Literally every parks and rec in Johnston county charges more for out of town residents. Maybe we should waive the additional fees across Johnston county since that seems to be what they want. I’ve had to pay extra for parks and rec cause I was out of city limits, same town just not city limits, so I’m not sure why this is a big deal. I say all Johnston county residents should access all Johnston county Parks and rec programs for the same fee just like the commissioners proposed for this

  10. You really have to look at the person running the school and all this is a true reflection on him. How many coaches have left since his reign started. 3-4 football coaches in less than 6 years. Way to build/ruin the tradition that Coach Fowler built. Stop making personal decisions and implementing them in the school.

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