Preserve Heritage Under Our Feet

More than a few motorists slowed and craned their necks to get a glimpse of something unusual at the downtown Wheeling site where The Health Plan’s new headquarters building was being constructed last year, we suspect. It was a piece of history that for decades had been just under our feet.

As we explained at the time, construction workers uncovered an old underground storage vault used by a business located at the site many years ago. The Health Plan officials incorporated some of the stone into their landscaping.

Unfortunately, because the vault’s existence was not known previously, it had to be filled in.

What if some of the other underground vaults in downtown Wheeling could be opened up and preserved? Would that not add to the historical interest of our city?

As we reported last week, Wheeling City Council members have been told that a streetscaping project envisioned a few years ago will be much more costly than had been thought. The original price tag was estimated at $8.7 million.

That has jumped to $19.1 million, City Manager Robert Herron told council members. It is hoped a $10.4 million federal grant can be obtained to cover the unforeseen expenses.

Clearly, downtown Wheeling needs a bit of a facelift. Making the old business district more attractive to people who live and work here, as well as to tourists, is one of the purposes of the streetscaping idea. Others include making the area more friendly to pedestrians and improving storm water drainage.

About $3.5 million of the increased cost is because of the many old underground vaults in the business district, Herron said. The streetscaping plan will require filling some in and bridging over others.

That last provision is a good one. Rather than destroying the old vaults, preserving some would be an excellent idea. Who knows? Perhaps some can be used for the kinds of shops tourists seem to love.

Retaining as many of the underground vaults as possible ought to be an integral part of the new streetscaping plan. One bonus to that approach is it could make the project more attractive to federal officials who will be asked to cover part of the cost.