Wellsburg playgrounds receive a boost from volunteers

GOOD NEWS — Wellsburg Council received good news Tuesday about funds coming for the city’s playgrounds through the efforts of volunteers.
— Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — The city’s parks will receive a boost from volunteers, including members of the Wellsburg Lions Club and disc jockeys with Music Done Knicely, who raised funds for new playground equipment.

Wellsburg Council, Tuesday, approved a design for a playset proposed by Eric Fithyan, president of the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, who said the group raised about $22,000 for it through its annual chicken barbecue and Duck Derby, a new event.

The latter involved placing hundreds of plastic ducks into the Ohio River, with prizes going to those who sponsored the ducks that reached a designated finish line.

Fithyan told council the cost for the playground is about $27,000, but the club hopes to secure a $5,000 grant for the remainder.

Built by Bluegrass Playground Equipment, which has partnered with various Kiwanis clubs, the structure includes a slide, swings and features for children who are handicapped or developmentally disabled.

Council agreed to place the playset in the E.R. Nichols 1st Ward Playground, noting it’s often used by children from the local Head Start program among others and much of the playground equipment there is very old.

Mayor Dan Dudley said there are plans to improve all of the city’s parks.

He acknowledged Ron Music and Chris Knicely for raising $5,000 for them through a dance held Saturday at the Wellsburg Banquet Hall with the cooperation of the Wellsburg Fire Department.

Knicely estimated at least 250 attended the dance, where chances were sold on baskets with prizes donated by many local businesses and others.

The two are considering another event in December.

In related business, 3rd Ward Councilman Tom Gaudio, who is the city’s park and recreation chairman, said the new basketball courts at the Betty Carr Recreation Site have been completed, and a young woman has offered to paint a mural at the 1st Ward Park to honor E.R. “Dick” Nichols, a former councilman who worked hard for the city’s parks.

Gaudio and other members of the Wellsburg Lions Club have secured an $11,500 grant from AARP’s Community Challenge program to establish two new pickleball courts at the Betty Carr Recreation Site.

The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and has become so popular locally that a pickle ball league now meets there on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and offers classes to newcomers.

Council also heard from Norm Schwertfeger, who was hired earlier this year to seek grants for the city.

Schwertfeger said several ideas for city projects were shared at a recent meeting attended by members of council and the city’s urban redevelopment authority and planning commission.

He noted many of them involved recreational opportunities, including upgrading the Wellsburg Wharf to support fishing there, establishing a community house either by using the existing former pool house or a new structure and creating a dog park.

Schwertfeger noted the latter could be done on vacant green space created through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s buyout program.

Flood-prone structures on the sites were demolished by FEMA, and their occupants provided funds to relocate, on the condition that no permanent structures be built there.

Schwertfeger noted further development of the city’s riverfront and the establishment of affordable apartments and other housing, additional restaurants and other new businesses were among other ideas shared.

He asked council to consider which projects they would like to be top priorities, which led council members to discuss which were most feasible and which would have the most impact.

First Ward Councilman Jack Kins said, “A dog park shouldn’t be hard to do.”

Second Ward Councilman Paul Billiard noted he’s pushed for improvements to the wharf, adding he’d like to see a Community House similar to the one in Follansbee.

Dudley said plans should be developed so projects can be pursued when funds are available.

“We need to get a couple of things shovel-ready so they’re ready to go,” he said.

In other business:

– City Police Chief Mike Allman said an officer is leaving his department for a job with the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, creating a second vacancy there.

Noting other officers have left for nearby departments, he asked if something can be done to attract and retain new employees.

City Manager Steve Magushack said fewer people are going into law enforcement. He said as at least a temporary measure, the city could hire officers from other departments on a part-time basis.

Alex Weld, a member of the city’s urban redevelopment authority, suggested the city seek a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, which she said could cover an officer’s salary for up to four years.

She said the deadline for this year’s grants has passed but the city could apply next year.

Council authorized the administration of a Civil Service examination required of applicants for the police positions.

– Resident Mary Kay Pepe said she and several others living on 22nd Street Extension have experienced very low water pressure.

Maguschak said no leak has been found in the line serving the homes and it seems likely the two-inch galvanized line simply needs to be replaced.

He agreed to consult engineers under contract to the city and encouraged Pepe to attend the city water-sewer board’s next meeting.

– Billiard complained about a large hole in 17th Street near its intersection with state Route 2 and about storm drains being clogged with grass and other material.

Maguschak said officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways have advised they will address the hole while city crews have been occupied with equipment malfunctions at the city’s water plant.

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