After a six-year struggle, Cascade Christian High School got the green light Thursday to build a playing field and community park on vacant, city-owned property off Table Rock Road.

After a six-year struggle, Cascade Christian High School got the green light Thursday to build a playing field and community park on vacant, city-owned property off Table Rock Road.

The Medford City Council unanimously voted to allow the church-based school to develop the 7.5-acre property into a multipurpose field, trails, track and a soccer field that will be known as Table Rock Park. With more than 50 supporters of the plan in the audience, the council also extended the lease from 15 years to 25 years with the possibility of a 25-year extension.

"We built the school with the faith that we'd get the property," said Ray Johnson, superintendent of Grace Christian Schools.

He said the school expects to pay $100,000 to improve the park initially, with plans to add more features in the future.

Under the agreement, Cascade Christian on Chevy Way will have exclusive use of the property from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Sept. 1 to June 5. The park will be available to the public after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. Cascade Christian will pay a lease of $12 a year.

Former City Councilman Mel Winkelman made an impassioned plea to the council to approve the project, saying that 28 years ago nothing much was planned for the land.

"This piece of property has sat fallow since that time," said a tearful Winkelman.

He said Cascade Christian's plan will benefit not only the school but the local community.

Councilman John Statler said he was concerned that the 25-year lease could cause problems if the city continues to grow in that direction.

When Cascade officials and other council members reminded him of the investment that Cascade will make, Statler said, "I'm willing to vote in favor, despite my reservations."

Ryan Pech, student body president at Cascade Christian, said having the fields close by will allow athletes to train without having to drive to other parks and waste gas.

"I practice on five different fields," said the 17-year-old Medford youth.

Johnson said the school plans to purchase another parcel of land in Medford that could be exchanged for the Table Rock property.

Even if the park belonged to the school, the community would have access, he said. Other Grace Christian schools have been made available to the public in the valley, he said.

In the long-term, Johnson said, he hopes there could be a connection between the park to Bear Creek so students could conduct biology observations. Schoolchildren already have been working with Greenway officials to remove blackberry bushes along the creek.

Johnson said he expects to receive a lot of donated time and manpower for the project, which will start after the Planning Department approves all the permits.

Cascade Christian will pay all construction costs, including city charges of $12,000 and $16,000 to hook into the water and sewer systems, respectively.

The school will pay for maintenance from August through June.

Johnson said he thinks it will cost only $100,000 to put in the basic fields, but he said the school plans on adding other amenities later.

With a 25-year lease, he said it will give the school ample time to improve the park.

Brian Sjothun, the city's parks and recreation director, said the city has similar 25-year agreements on other properties with Medford schools.

When the idea of the park was first raised, some council members worried that a partnership between the city and the school could violate church-versus-state laws.

Sjothun said the Portland Parks and Recreation Department entered into a similar agreement with Central Catholic High School that led to the construction of a park that was used by the school and the public.

Sjothun said the agreement showed there was a precedence for doing a project of this kind.

"It helped ease the minds of all the folks involved in that it could be done," he said.

The property was originally purchased with Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, which allowed it to be used for recreational purposes only.

Because of restrictions on owning this type of property, Sjothun said that Cascade Christian will have to find a similar piece of land if it wants to conduct an exchange in the future.

Most of the councilmen expressed their support for a project that will give the city another park.

Councilman Al Densmore said, "In the future, we're going to have to look at more of these public/private partnerships."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.