WEIRTON - While sharing memories of summer youth at the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool may not save the pool, able and willing bodies to support restoration as well as dollars and cents could have an impact.
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.
Dozens of residents came out Wednesday morning for the regular Park Board meeting hosted at the Marland Heights Park in the hope of continuing efforts to save the pool. Area residents have formed an organization to launch those efforts to preserve not only the structure but to restore it as a functional pool.
DEMOLITION DEBATED — Dozens of residents turned out early Wednesday for the regular Park Board meeting hosted at Marland Heights Park in the hope of continuing efforts to save the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool, which the Park Board voted to demolish in July. -- Angelina Dickson
Doug Jackson of Weirton, president and spokesperson for the Save the Marland Heights Pool Association, appeared before the Park Board to speak on behalf of those involved in the grass-roots organization. He engaged the members of the Park Board in discussion to dispel any rumors that may have circulated and clear up any misunderstandings on either side.
Jackson said there had been questions as to where the residents were over the past few years while nothing had been done with the pool since it closed in 2005. He said he and many others were working to establish businesses, pay taxes and at the polling booths voting for representation and residents decided to speak up when those representing them didn't speak to their interests in regards to the pool.
"I'm hoping throughout this process we can have a community-based discussion on how we can save the Marland Heights Pool," he said.
Jackson posed several questions residents wanted to see answered including whether there was a demolition date set, if grants had been obtained for demolition and what money had been obtained for restoration over the last 10 years.
Park Board Director and Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel said there was no demolition date set nor were there any grants obtained for that purpose. He said the Park Board applied for some Community Development Block Grant funds several years ago to restore the restrooms, but cost estimates came in three times higher than the grant which was estimated between $5,000 and $10,000.
Because the pool is listed on the National Historic Register, Weigel said all of the upgrades to the restroom would have to be submitted and approved. He said the changes would have to restore the historic integrity of the facility which increased costs.
"We didn't have the additional funds to go with the grant so those funds were allocated to another project," said Weigel.
Weigel said additional funds were sought; however, there were none available for the project.
Jackson also expressed displeasure about the facility being used as a haunted house. He said there was an agreement in place that it could be used as such if those organizing it did not destroy the pool in the process; however, there was spray paint and other destruction left inside the pool from those days which Jackson said increased the cost in restoration.
Park Board member Doug Finton interjected to remind those in attendance that the majority of the Park Board members were not on the park board at the time in question and therefore had nothing to do with decisions to allow a haunted house.
Program Manager Kevin Elias said the haunted house was a Park Board activity that was conducted through the use of volunteers. He said members of the Weirton Community Players and the Jaycees were involved as well as school groups.
Another question residents wanted to know was whether the land had been surveyed by a company for individual home sites to which the Park Board answered no. Mayor George Kondik added that in his 17 years as a councilman and now as mayor, he has never heard of any company coming in to do such a survey.
Elizabeth Patsch, vice president of the Save the Marland Heights Pool Association, has a master's degree in museum studies and said she is looking forward to the project to save the pool. She said the site is in excellent shape, something rarely seen at historical sites in need of restoration.
Patsch submitted a petition on behalf of the organization to request that the Park Board move their meetings to an evening slot. She said it would be easier for more residents to attend and could promote more participation as discussions continue.
However, with more than one Park Board member opposing such a decision immediately due to work conflicts the board decided to add the petition to the record and put the matter on the next agenda to decide as a board if a compromise can be reached through alternating morning and evening meetings.
"I know we are volunteers and we all can't make it every meeting, but I like to think I am an integral part of this board and what I have to say is important so I try to be at every meeting," Park Board member Deb Witkowski said, noting she would not be able to attend Wednesday evening meetings.
Witkowski said she was pleased to see such a large turnout for the meeting, something not seen in the past year of discussions concerning the pool. She said the Park Board has wanted participation from the public since the beginning and feels there is now a good line of communication.
"This is exactly what we've wanted," she said. "We're hoping you'll offer your expertise to accomplish this goal."
Park Board members attempted for more than a year to get input as to what the residents of Weirton would like to see done at the Marland Heights Pool, said former state Sen. Ed Bowman. He said he felt there was total procrastination and something had to be done.
"It was our duty to move forward but we made a decision I felt was for the right reason so I can accept disagreement," he said. "I spent every summer in high school here just like all of you and nothing is going to take my memories away from me."
Bowman said he understands there is national historic significance at the site, but he doesn't see how the structure is benefiting the community. He said there aren't any tour buses coming up to look at the pool. Several years ago, he said the city faced the same issues at Cove School but it was demolished and now there is something at the site that serves as a benefit to the entire community.
Park Board members announced that the decision to demolish the pool did not come easy.
"We agonized over this decision," said Mike Adams.
"The last thing we wanted to do was tear down the pool but last month we made a motion and voted and got a response out of you people," added Ted Dragisich.
Bowman agreed that more discussion needed to be had but if the demographics of the city has not changed when the time comes to make a decision to operate the pool as a functional pool, then he said he would not support it. He said it would be irresponsible of him to vote to use taxpayer dollars to operate a facility that was not sustainable adding that he would be more interested in preserving it as a historical landmark.
Jackson said the Save the Marland Heights Pool organization has filled out the paperwork to become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that would be interested in operating the pool and maintaining the park. He said business plans are being drafted that he is hoping the Park Board would be interested in seeing, including a suggestion to lease the property and pool over to the organization where it would then be operated by private donations and grants.
"Nothing has been finalized yet, but we have several ideas for a partnership," he said.
Park Board members said they would be interested in hearing any ideas that come forward to save the pool, but would continue to pursue avenues in line with plans to demolish the pool so time is not lost. Bowman said the demolition, if it happens, is years away so there would be plenty of time to continue discussions and make decisions accordingly.
(Dickson can be contacted at email@example.com)