City: Sale of Playground to Mozart VFD Is Unlikely

The Mozart Volunteer Fire Department wants to buy a portion of the Ark Avenue playground from the city of Wheeling for use as a training facility, but City Manager Robert Herron said a restriction attached to the property would make it very difficult to sell.

The park is located directly behind the department’s station on South Frazier Avenue. According to Assistant Fire Chief Richard Fischer, the department is interested only in the grass field left behind when the city demolished the park’s deteriorating tennis courts, and its plan would not disturb the basketball court or playground equipment remaining at the park.

Fischer said the department would like to buy converted shipping containers that provide controlled simulation environments and possibly build a training tower similar to the one on Wheeling Island. They would erect a fence around the field and pave an existing access path to the site, he added.

The plan would cost about $250,000, according to Fischer, but he believes the department would be successful in obtaining grants to pay for it. He noted new recruits often have to travel to Clarksburg to receive the training required for certification, which can be a deterrent to joining volunteer departments for people with full-time jobs.

But according to Herron, the Mozart park property has a deed restriction attached to it because a National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Grant was used to fund improvements there years ago. As a result, he said, the city would have to find a similar piece of land in the neighborhood to replace the Ark Avenue property if the city sells it.

“I don’t think that’s practical at this time,” Herron said.

Fischer said he hasn’t seen many children use the field since the tennis courts were demolished, and pointed out the Mozart and Mount Olivet provide level grass surfaces on which neighborhood children can play.

“Why not use what’s here? … Its 100 percent a good thing,” Fischer said.

Councilman Robert “Herk” Henry, whose ward includes Mozart, said he would have supported the fire department’s proposal.

For years, neighborhood residents had asked city leaders to do something about the tennis courts at the playground, where the playing surface had deteriorated and the nets had disappeared. In 2011, the city demolished the courts to create a grass field, spending about $16,000 to seed and mulch the site.