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Current and former residents react to pool demolition plans

August 5, 2012
By ANGELINA DICKSON - Staff writer ( , Weirton Daily Times

WEIRTON - News of demolition plans for the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool on Marland Heights has sparked interest from local residents and former residents looking for ways to save the pool.

The Weirton Board of Parks and Recreations voted in July to move forward with plans to demolish the Marland Heights Pool after cost estimates to restore the pool to its former glory or turn the structure as it is into a skating rink came in at between $800,000 and $1.75 million.

However, this announcement did not sit well with some residents and some of those who spent part of their youth at the pool began a string of posts on Facebook opposing the demolition. In addition, some of them have been working to form a group to raise funds to save the pool.

Judi Bunner of Weirton said she was informed another group who looked into renovating the pool without taxpayer money had a different take from the experts used by the Park Board. She said some are under the impression the pool was in relatively good shape and could be repaired.

"I can't see how the Park Board figures it would cost less money to demolish and build than it costs to renovate given the age of the Starvaggi Pool," she said. "I find it hard to believe the city insists on destroying historic sites as they did with the Cove School building."

Bunner said she is all for the addition of an ice skating rink but would like to see the pool reopened.

Fact Box

The Weirton Park Board will meet at 8 a.m. Aug. 15 at the Marland Heights Park

Betty Lawrence, formerly of Weirton, like many others grew up spending her summers at the pool. She said she lived six blocks away and would ride her bike down and take swimming lessons, swim until lunch and go home. She said she would return after lunch and stay until time to leave for dinner.

"We not only learned to swim at the pool, we learned how to behave. Mr. Manley was the director and he ran a tight ship. We were all kind of his kids and he never let us get out of hand," said Lawrence.

Lawrence said as she and her friends got older it was a place to flirt with the boys. All of the cool kids had their towels out by the diving boards, the younger kids hung out along the one side and mothers with little kids hung out near the baby pool.

"I met my very first boyfriend at the pool. He worked there as a life guard and more than once he rescued someone from the pool," she said. "We are now together after having gone our separate ways for 30 years when he moved away."

Lawrence said it is her hope that something viable can be done with the structure as it stands. She said it would be a shame to see such a historical landmark filled with memories torn down.

Noel Kirk West, said he no longer lives in Weirton, but as someone who grew up on Marland Heights and went to the pool each summer, he feels qualified to comment concerning the proposed demolishing of the pool.

West said he believes there should be extensive research and budget reviews before anyone calls in a demolition team. He said if the pool cannot be maintained as such, there are still viable options such as filling in the pool to use it for weddings, reunions, art shows, concerts and the list could go on.

"I believe if this historic structure is allowed to be torn down, there will be a hole in the heart of Weirton bigger than the hole in the ground," he said. "Don't let this happen. I do not advocate living in the past, our wonderful summer pool memories are ours to keep. I say give these grounds life again and make it a 'present' all can enjoy for years to come."

Cathy Marinacci said there are more comments and discussions on the "I am From Weirton WVA" page on Facebook. She said there are more than 400 responses in favor of finding a way to save this pool, a Nationally Registered Historic Property designed by the architect Wesley Bintz.

"There aren't many of these pools left in America and Weirton has the honor of having one of these pools that is in remarkably good condition. The city of Weirton should find a way to save this national treasure," added Marinacci.

Helen Varlan Malandrakis, formerly of Weirton, wanted to include her hope that the Marland Heights pool be saved. Though she no longer lives in Weirton, she will always consider it home. She said the pool not only holds many childhood memories for her, but for her children with their cousins also.

Sheila Beatty Orlando shared some memories of her experiences at the pool also. She said it was the summer of 1964 when she and her friend caught the Chestnut Woods bus down to the Community Center area and like so many others, started up the path to the pool. She said it was one of those days when they could round up enough money for bus fare.

"That day would forever change my life because that is when I met my husband to be, Kenny," Orlando said noting she had gone to school with him her entire life without having met before then. "I will always have a warm feeling in my heart for that pool and the day I met my forever best friend."

Melissa Knox, now a resident of Columbus, Ohio, said Weirton will always be home to her. She said there is enough uniqueness and history in this pool, or at least the building that houses it, to merit saving it from demolition. She said with all that Weirton has lost over these years, banding together to do something positive in spite of its difficulty is worthwhile.

There are, however, some residents who are not in favor of the demolition, but feel the reality of the costs associated to not only restore the pool but to operate and maintain it would be too high.

James Pennebaker of Weirton said there needs to be some realistic perspective when addressing this situation of the proposed demolition.

"What would entitle a swimming pool to be declared a historical land mark?" he posed. "Seriously, just because something is old doesn't mean it has significant historical value."

Pennebaker said it is a swimming pool and he understands many people have fond memories of being there when they were young, but he wonders how many people would utilize the pool now. He said he doesn't believe there would be enough business at the pool to cover the cost of the basics let alone the costs of repairs.

"With the abundance of at-home pools, there just isn't the need for so many community pools and where would the city come up with the money to fix, operate and maintain an out of date swimming pool?" he asked.

Park Board representatives reported that costs to bring the structure up to code would far exceed the cost to restore the front entrance as a memorial, tear down the remainder of the building and construct an ice skating rink from scratch. Officials also indicated there was little use during the final year the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool was operating thus forcing the city to close the facility.

The Park Board is set to meet Aug. 15 at 8 a.m. at the Marland Heights Park.

(Dickson can be contacted at

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