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Graves donates land near Vero Beach High to school district for new running track

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of February 4, 2021)

A modern running track and a community walking path are planned for the 16th Street Ballfields near Vero Beach High School in memory of the late Jimmy Graves, who died in a 2016 boating accident when he was a high school freshman.

Joe and Carole Graves decided to donate the 11-acre parcel to the school district after a foundation they created was unable to create a commemorative sports facility at the site, and School Board President Brian Barefoot shared his ideas about how the property could be developed by the school district to benefit students and residents in perpetuity.

A deal involving the School Board, the County Commission and the Jimmy Graves Foundation board set the stage for the donation of the ballfields to the school district.

County commissioners were to vote Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit against the Jimmy Graves Foundation, which had purchased the ballfields from the county at a discounted price in May 2017, and take legal steps to facilitate the donation to the school district.

“The county is very happy with the solution,” County Administrator Jason Brown said. “I believe the school district will do great things with this property and it will be a benefit to the community.”

The School Board on Jan. 26 voted unanimously to accept the donation.

“What a great example,” Barefoot said about the donation. “It’s nice to be able to be a part of something that will make such a difference forever in so many kids’ lives.”

The foundation bought the ballfields from the county for $250,000 in May 2017 with the goal of developing the Jimmy Graves Sports Complex with a modern track and new ballfields, but was unable to raise sufficient funds.

Joe Graves, who represents the barrier island on the Vero Beach City Council, gave an emotional speech during the Jan. 26 School Board meeting outlining his family’s efforts to honor the memory of his son.

“Our intent was to build a public-private partnership for a community track that would be accessible not only to the Vero Beach High School students, but the community as well,” Graves said.

The foundation removed dilapidated field houses from the ballfields and installed sod on 5 acres for youth sports programs serving thousands of children, Graves said. But it could not sustain the financial burden alone.

“A representative from the Jimmy Graves Foundation reached out to many organizations and nonprofits in our community, but there were no viable partners,” Graves said.

As a result, the foundation signed a contract to sell the land to a residential developer for $300,000.

That prompted the county to file suit against the Jimmy Graves Foundation on Nov. 16 for violating an agreement the property would only be used for recreational and charitable purposes.

But Graves and his wife backed out of the sale after being contacted by Barefoot about his vision for the ballfields, and eventually decided to donate the land to the school district.

“He had ideas that were very exciting, and he planted a seed in my mind that day,” Graves said about Barefoot. “The stars aligned. This is what we’d been fighting for ... for four years.

“When I purchased this land, I made a promise to safeguard this land for the community,” Graves said. “Today I fulfill the promise to do the right thing by giving this land to the Indian River County School District.”

A new nonprofit foundation the school district is forming at Barefoot’s suggestion will be able to raise money for the new track and walking path, said Barefoot, who previously served as mayor of Indian River Shores.

“In speaking with a lot of my friends who have been very supportive of a lot of the not-for-profits in the community, I felt that if we could get something concluded here, there was going to be financial support in the community,” Barefoot said. “I can’t wait to see that track open.