City Eyes June Opening for Park

WHEELING – City officials had hoped to open the new J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling by Memorial Day – the unofficial first day of summer – but with wet weather slowing down construction, a mid-June completion date appears more realistic.

Although workers at the site have been assembling playground equipment, erecting lighting and building the park’s drainage system, they’re at the mercy of the weather when it comes to the project’s centerpiece – the artificial turf field, which can’t be installed when the dirt underneath it is too soggy.

“I think they only worked on it one day this week,” City Manager Robert Herron said Friday.

Public Works Director Russell Jebbia said installation of the artificial turf is probably about two weeks away.

The field – which will be the only artificial turf field in the area open for use by the general public – will be suitable for football, soccer, softball and lacrosse. The $3.3 million park also will feature restroom facilities, lighted basketball courts and a variety of playground equipment appropriate for children of all ages.

Herron said groups have already been in contact with the Recreation Department about scheduling time on the field.

“We’re excited that the project is moving along. … It’s going to be a real asset to not only the neighborhood but the city as a whole,” Herron said.

Construction of the park alone is costing about $2.1 million. But the total price tag for the project is roughly $3.3 million, taking into account the $1.2 million spent on design, property acquisition and demolition of the houses on the block bound by 15th, 16th, Wood and McColloch streets.

Known funding sources for the project include $1.25 million in publicly announced private sector donations; $1.2 million from city taxpayers; and $600,000 in state and federal grants, most of it Community Development Block Grant funding.

According to Herron, a little more than $200,000 still needs to be raised to cover the cost of construction. But Mayor Andy McKenzie said the fundraising effort won’t stop there, as money will be needed for equipment and maintenance.

“We would like to raise several hundred thousand more,” McKenzie said.

The park is the centerpiece to a number of changes taking place in the East Wheeling neighborhood.

The city has awarded contracts to demolish four dilapidated buildings on 15th Street, including three across the street from the field. Herron said removing those building will make the area both safer and more appealing for those who use the new park.

City leaders are also working to make the area safer for pedestrians, but they’ll need help from the West Virginia Division of Highways to accomplish that. Herron said he has issued a formal request to the DOH to do something about the intersection of 16th and Wood streets, which is the state’s responsibility because of the exit from W.Va. 2.

“That is a very awkward intersection,” he said. “We’ve asked (the state) to look at what we can do so people can safely cross at that intersection.”

Sight lines are a problem there, and options include a traffic signal or stop sign. But it’s unclear how long any changes would take, if they happen at all, as Herron said the DOH has yet to respond to his request.

Also unclear is what will happen with the vacant former Clay School, which dominates the block across the street from the park. Owner Darryl Baynes bought the old school from the Ohio County Board of Education about a decade ago with plans to build a science center for area youth but never was able to scrape together the funding to make it happen. He has now listed the building with Paull Associates of Wheeling, with an asking price of $249,900.

McKenzie has said the land would be ideal for new housing, something he believes would fill a need in the city and contribute to the overall revitalization of the East Wheeling neighborhood.