Field Project Contracts Approved

WHEELING – With City Council’s approval Tuesday of construction contracts and financing for the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park, officials expect to break ground on the $3.3 million East Wheeling project within 30 days.

City Manager Robert Herron said within that time, American Electric Power will finish relocating utility lines that cross the construction site, and the city’s contractor, James White Construction of Weirton, should have all its insurance and bonding documents in order.

“The majority of the work – if not all – will be done by December. … It could go into early spring,” Herron said.

During a Tuesday meeting, council members approved several pieces of legislation related to the project, awarding $2.08 million in construction contracts to James White – and authorizing a $1.15 million loan as well as the transfer of $42,000 in unspent Community Development Block Grant funding from the 2012-13 fiscal year to cover those costs.

Each of the measures passed by a 6-0 vote, with Councilman David Miller absent.

About $1.2 million already has been spent for property acquisition, demolition and design, bringing the final projected price tag to nearly $3.3 million.

Thus far, city officials have identified $1.81 million in outside funding sources for the project, including $1.25 million in private donations and $560,000 in CDBG funding. Another $200,000 to $300,000 still needs to be raised to fully fund construction, and Mayor Andy McKenzie has said fundraising will continue to pay for ongoing maintenance of the park.

The loan is needed to make up that shortfall and allow construction to begin now, even though some donors will fulfill their contribution pledges over a period of several years.

Amenities at the park, to be situated on the block bounded by 15th, 16th, Wood and McColloch streets, will include a $1.52 million lighted, artificial turf field and $561,000 worth of upgraded playground facilities – including restrooms – to replace the Elks Playground, which was removed during the project’s demolition phase.

“It’s a great day for the revitalization of East Wheeling. … I’ve always said this project is about making a good neighborhood better, tearing down dilapidated houses and improving public safety,” McKenzie said following Tuesday’s meeting.

It’s been a long road to get to this point. City leaders announced the project more than three years ago, after they already had acquired most of the property on the block – but a few property owners refused to sell their buildings, prompting the city to invoke eminent domain to acquire them.

Three of the owners fought the city in court and lost, while a fourth – then-Councilman James Tiu – reached an agreement to sell his house just before a January 2012 hearing on the matter, during which now-retired Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled the field was a proper public use

Demolition of the block began in May 2012 and took several months.

The field will be suitable for football, soccer, lacrosse and softball, and will be operated in a similar manner to the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex off Interstate 470 in Elm Grove, Herron previously said. The playground will feature two separate play areas suitable for younger children as well as school-age children.

In other business Tuesday, council approved an $84,000 contract for a CDBG-funded sidewalk repair project on 15th Street, also with James White Construction, as well as $75,000 for equipment maintenance at Centre Market.

Downtown resident Charles Ballouz also appeared before council to complain about littering downtown.

He said patrons of a bar in the 1000 block of Main Street routinely discard empty beer cans and liquor bottles outside the establishment and suggested the city consider stiffer penalties for littering, or erecting signs warning against the offense.

“Something needs to be done with it. … It’s a shame, because we never used to have that,” Ballouz said.