It’s good to see the City of Weirton finally looking to make large-scale investments into its recreational facilities.
This past Tuesday, city council agreed to set aside $1.5 million of its more than $10 million allotment of American Rescue Plan funds to assist with repairs and improvements in various parks and park-related buildings. In particular, $117,000 has been allocated for the replacement of the playground at Starvaggi Memorial Park, up to $82,000 for the demolition of the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool at Marland Heights Park, and $200,000 for the third phase of a repair project to the south wall and foundation of the Millsop Community Center.
The lone debate on the topic was whether the city should expense up to $25,000 for a study to assess the condition of Starvaggi Pool. It should be noted, the Park Board has offered to match whatever funds the city spends, so, if the study costs $50,000, both parties will put in $25,000. If it only costs $25,000, that, too, will be split 50/50.
There was concern expressed by two members of council – Terry Weigel (the former parks director) and Chris Jonczak – as to whether the assessment really is necessary. We all know the pool is well past its usable life, after all, and if that’s all the study will say, then what is the point? According to Parks Director Coty Shingle, though, the assessment will be more involved than that, also offering some ideas for the pool’s future use. It won’t provide designs, necessarily, but it will recommend changes in size and possibly some new features, using information provided by officials and other interested parties.
What’s curious to me about any consideration against a study is that, just last year, when parks officials were requesting assistance for the future of the pool, members of council said they wouldn’t dedicate any funds without a feasibility study.
Last fall, in fact, Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh had proposed setting aside $1 million to make sure funds were available in the event a project would move forward. Others on council used the lack of such a study to vote down the proposal at that time. Now, there is a question as to whether the study would be a waste of money.
Whatever the reasoning, the study and all of the other proposals were approved for funding Tuesday, and will be going forward. Plus, there will still be at least $1 million remaining from the allotment, which can be used on other projects. So far, officials have discussed the possibility of putting it toward any actual renovations to Starvaggi Pool or possibly even the paving of the Panhandle Rail Trail. The Park Board, this past week, initiated the first phase of the trail paving project, with $45,000 obtained through local sources. Another $90,000 is available through a state/federal transportation grant, with the board simply waiting for the go-ahead to use those funds. The hope is to fully pave the trail from the Pennsylvania state line to the trail head near the Harmon Creek Road exit from U.S. 22.
City Manager Mike Adams put it best, when noting recreation is still among the top five issues potential businesses look for when deciding whether to locate to an area. Weirton’s recreation facilities have scraped by over the years, primarily putting what funds they have toward operational expenses and very little into capital improvements.
These types of investments are going to be necessary if we are to continue the forward momentum of rebuilding the Upper Ohio Valley. It’s going to take teamwork from every aspect of our communities to get it done.
(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)