City: New Field Seeing Plenty of Use

WHEELING – About 16 different groups, from high school sports teams to pee-wee football leagues and even an ice hockey team, have used the new J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling since the $3.3 million facility opened in June, according to the city Recreation Department.

The field’s most frequent user appears to be Wheeling Central Catholic High School, which had 19 of the 45.5 hours scheduled for the facility this week between its football and soccer practices. Other groups with time scheduled this week included Wheeling Rec League Fall Softball, the Little Patriots youth football team, the Wheeling Amateur Soccer Association, the Wheeling Fury travel soccer team and St. Michael Parish School’s football team. A special event, the Wheeling Parochial League’s Grid-O-Rama, is scheduled for Saturday.

“It’s been getting great usage, and we’ve really not had to turn anybody down,” said Assistant Recreation Director Gene Ammirante, who handles scheduling for the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park. “We’ve had to slide some requests around, but fortunately we’ve been able to accommodate everyone.”

The response since the park opened, featuring the area’s only artificial turf field available for public use, has been particularly gratifying for Tom Bechtel, who’s been Wheeling’s recreation director for the last 40 years. He said the park is busy day and night, rain or shine.

“One Monday in August we had five groups use the field. That’s 10 hours during the day the field was being utilized,” Bechtel said.

As plans for the new East Wheeling park progressed – including eminent domain proceedings against a few property owners who refused to sell to the city – rumors swirled that the field was being built primarily for private benefit, namely that of Wheeling Central.

“There’s been different things said throughout the process of this field. I wasn’t part of the politics … but I’m telling you, as a recreation director, it’s one of the neatest things that’s happened in the city of Wheeling,” Bechtel said.

Although Wheeling Central has spent plenty of time on the field, the roster of groups that have used the facility, in addition to those already mentioned, include the Wheeling Bandits youth football team, West Virginia Northern Community College’s intramural flag football league, West Liberty University’s soccer team and a number of lacrosse teams.

The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists group is holding a kickball game at the field Sunday, Bechtel said, and the facility will play host to a future Punt, Pass and Kick event. Wheeling Park High School’s ice hockey team has even used the field for conditioning drills.

There is no charge to schedule time on the field, according to Bechtel, and groups can contact the Recreation Department at 304-234-3641 with requests. He said groups have shared the field at times, adding the only hard rule is that games will take precedence.

“We’ve told everybody that if you’re just a practice, you may get bumped for an actual game,” Bechtel said.

As far as upkeep, Bechtel said the city Operations Department checks things out at the field daily, and there have been few issues thus far.

“We were concerned about keeping the place clean, but I can’t say enough about the groups we deal with. Everyone has been so professional,” Bechtel said.

City officials first announced the project in summer 2010. Demolition of an entire block of homes between 15th and 16th and Wood and McColloch streets – a number of which were vacant and in disrepair – began in May 2012 and continued through that summer, with construction of the park getting under way last fall.

Funding for the project has included $1.25 million in publicly identified private contributions, $1.2 million from city taxpayers and $600,000 in state and federal grants. Officials have said about $200,000 still needs to be raised. The city took out a loan in August 2013 in order to get construction underway, due in part to those fundraising needs, as well as to cover contributions that had been pledged over a period of several years.

The list of publicly identified donors include the J.B. Chambers Foundation, Wheeling Hospital, the Schenk Foundation, the Bordas & Bordas law firm and the Roy and Dorothy Chambers Foundation.