Fun in the Future for East Wheeling

WHEELING – City leaders want to do more than just replace the former Elks Playground that was demolished along with about 30 buildings to make way for the planned J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling – they hope to create a play area unlike anything Wheeling’s children have had available to them before.

The upgrade won’t be cheap, however. City leaders expect the price tag for the new playground will be about $400,000. It will include new basketball courts, separate play areas suitable for toddlers as well as school-age children, a swing set, lights, restroom facilities and rubberized fall protection underneath the play equipment.

“What we’re envisioning is something more futuristic and modern – something that we don’t already have,” said City Manager Robert Herron.

The new playground will be in the same spot as the old Elks Playground, though the layout will be a little different. The basketball courts will be where the play equipment was, and vice versa, so parents with children of different ages will be able to keep an eye on younger children using the playground and older children using the artificial turf field at the park.

The city will pay for most of the playground portion of the East Wheeling project with federal Community Development Block Grant money. It also has a $22,000 state grant for the project.

Estimated expenses specific to the playground total almost $300,000, including $82,000 for playground equipment and installation, $77,000 for restrooms, $58,000 for the fall protection system, $44,800 for basketball courts and goals, $21,800 for an underground drainage system and $10,500 for the foundation.

The overall $400,000 cost estimate for the playground includes what officials believe are proportional percentages of costs impacting the overall park project, including site grading, lighting, fencing and retaining wall.

“When this estimate was presented to us, it was one large project,” Herron said, noting the use of federal money for the playground portion requires it be bid separately.

He noted, however, the cost estimates compiled by Alpha Engineers of Morgantown are more than a year old. and officials really won’t know for sure how much the playground and field will cost until bids for the projects are opened June 18.

Whatever the cost ends up being, Herron said the city will apply the state grant first, with the rest paid through CDBG.

If bids for the playground come in under budget, he said, leftover CDBG money would be reallocated for infrastructure improvements or other capital projects. Council would have the final decision on what projects.

Meanwhile, the fundraising effort continues to pay for the artificial turf field that makes up the bulk of the estimated $2.5 million to $3 million overall project cost. Mayor Andy McKenzie said the city is $200,000 to $300,000 short of being able to get construction of the field under way. McKenzie said he expects to make a series of announcements identifying more contributors in the coming weeks.

Because the projects are two separate contracts, Herron said the city could begin construction on the Elks Playground before proceeding with the remainder of the project, though he stressed city officials are confident the final fundraising push for the field will be successful.