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Recreation Funding Through CARES Act a Future Plan

By ALAN OLSON

Staff Writer

Local municipalities are constantly eyeing new improvements to their parks, playgrounds and pools, and are hoping to use funding from the CARES Act to make it happen.

Benwood has always taken pride in its recreational service to the community, with its pool a longtime summer hotspot for locals. Renovations to the pool were completed last year, and mayor Walter Yates said work to the municipal park is aimed at finishing up this summer; with the miniature golf course no longer in place, Yates says the city is looking to install a stage and screen for movie showings, plant fresh grass to complement the flowers, and, maybe, live music.

“We took the golf course out, and we’re looking to put up a stage, level the ground out, plant grass where our beautiful flag is, and maybe show movies or if we have a band that wants to come play for us,” he said. “People may even want to come by and have some weddings. It’ll be real nice, for the whole community.”

The pool renovations alone were reported as coming with a price tag of nearly $1.7 million. However, Yates said Benwood was only informed as recently as early February that the CARES Act funding could go to recreational activities, and that Benwood stands to get around $800,000 back from the state. “I do believe we’re close to $800,000,” Yates said. “There was a lot of work — you have to count everything, all the supplies, what went into the police department. We’re still doing pretty well, our (Business and occupation) taxes are down a bit, but we’re still hanging in there, and hopefully we get a new budget going starting July.”

Across the river in St. Clairsville, Parks and Recreation Director Sean Hanley said the CARES Act funding has gone largely to safety improvements. Chief among them, he said, was a John Deere Gator UTV — “basically a golf cart on steroids” — which provides a better means to move trash away from the Central Park Amphitheater.

“That was, I believe, what funded our Gator, which will help us transport trash from our Amphitheater and other areas around our building to the Dumpster, without actually having to put the biohazard trash in the back of my vehicle, which I was having to do for the longest time,” Hanley said. “We also were able to get an eight-camera surveillance system for the building, down at the playground area, as well as at the Amphitheater,” he added.

In addition to the technological upgrades and utility vehicle, Hanley said the city, like many, went all-in on using the CARES Act funding to procure sanitation supplies.

“We were a big beneficiary of that, since we have so many people coming in,” he said. “We’ve got hundreds of pairs of rubber gloves. I’ve got sanitizer coming out my ears. All kidneys of bleach and other cleaning supplies. It’s benefitted us, for sure.”

Moundsville reported a similar situation to Benwood, as it wasn’t until January when Moundsville City Manager Rick Healy said the city was fully aware that they were able to use the CARES Act funding for that purpose.

“We actually have not utilized any of ours, yet,” Healy said in mid-February. “We’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve been able to put ours in a CARES Act line item of the budget, that the state auditor’s office set up for the money, and it’s kind of just sitting there.”

Healy said the lack of utilization of the funds was out of an abundance of caution, not wanting to misapply the funds and cause issues down the line.

“There was guidance to do that from the auditor’s office that was delayed for a long time, we couldn’t seem to get any good answers. We got the information from the Municipal League in January, or late December, that told us it was general fund reimbursement and could be used as any general fund money could be.”

Healy said the city council would move forward, armed with a better idea of how to utilize the funding, but as of February, no action had been taken on that front.

The City of Wheeling has put some of the CARES Act funding to use already, though, putting the funding toward better safety features for guests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We used CARES act funding to purchase thermometers for screenings of employees and guests at our pools and the Nelson Jordan Center. With the funding we were also able to install plastic barriers at the entrances to the pools along with purchasing additional cleaning and disinfecting supplies,” said Rochelle Berry, director of parks and recreation.

“We used CARES act funding to purchase thermometers for screenings of employees and guests at our pools and the Nelson Jordan Center. With the funding we were also able to install plastic barriers at the entrances to the pools along with purchasing additional cleaning and disinfecting supplies,” said Rochelle Berry, director of parks and recreation.

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