WEIRTON - Days after convincing the city's park board to delay demolition of Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool, about 50 Marland Heights residents gathered Saturday evening to talk about what they can do to ensure the historic structure never goes under the wrecking ball.
The city's park board had targeted the pool for demolition after engineers said the cost to repair the structure and make it handicap accessible could run as high as $1.75 million. Rather than commit to a costly preservation plan, the board had intended to spend roughly $350,000 to demolish the pool and build something in its place.
A vocal group of past and present community residents, however, circulated petitions in print and online urging city officials to reconsider, and at September's meeting the park board agreed to table its demolition plans indefinitely and requested a memorandum of understanding be drawn up indicating their willingness to lease the park to the Marland Heights Community Association.
HOPING TO SAVE POOL — Marland Heights Community Association President Doug Jackson discussed what’s being done to save the historic Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool from demolition with interested residents on Saturday. - Linda Harris
Built in 1934, the circular pool was designed by Wesley Bintz and even now is considered "an architectural marvel," Jackson said. With only a handful of Bintz's pools still in existence, the Marland Heights pool is listed on the national register of historic places.
MHCA President Doug Jackson said it's that historical significance "that opens us up for several grants," beginning with one that would cover the cost of a feasibility study to determine what it would cost to rehabilitate the existing structure. That application is due by the end of October, and, if successful, would be funded in February.
"The pool and park were given to the community as a community center," Jackson said. "That's what we want it returned to."
He said they've already talked to an engineer who thinks there's an easy fix to make the facility handicap accessible, "since we have a spectator cage and spectator staircase" that can be adapted. And he said that, provided they can show they are working toward complying with the American with Disabilities Act, they won't necessarily have to have the fix in place when the pool reopens and, in fact, could take until 2025 to complete the work.
Because they are a registered nonprofit, Jackson said they have suppliers willing to donate a number of things for the project, including a pump to heat the pool, chemicals to treat the water and a security system.
Likewise, he said they've talked with a man who actually builds polymer ice skating rinks who says it would cost $58,000 to install, a fraction of what the park board had said a permanent structure might cost. Jackson, though, said if and when they get one it would augment the pool, not replace it, and would be done in such a way as to have minimal impact on the park habitat.
The rink fabricator, meanwhile, is bringing a polymer rink in for the group's Oct. 27 Oktoberfest at his own expense, "the reason being we have people who want to donate significant funds for the purpose of bringing an ice skating rink in."
"He's donating it all to us because he believes in us," Jackson said.
The Oktoberfest celebration, to be held from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., will feature crafts, food, live entertainment, horse rides, petting goats, pumpkin painting, face painting and pet adoptions as well as ice skating.
The group's Oct. 13 oldies dance will feature the Legend band as well as DJ Harry Stock, "who is coming out of retirement" to support the pool project, Jackson said.
Mayor George Kondik, a Marland Heights resident, told the group Weirton Rotary was willing to sell adult beverages during the dance "and donate the money back" to the Save Our Pool effort.
He said they've already had a number of donations from Weirton natives living in other parts of the country. One woman told her son, a Marine serving in the Middle East, and his unit donated a substantial sum to the cause; the woman, in turn, is now trying to raise enough money to send "Save Our Pool" T-shirts to all 111 members of his unit.
"It's about more than a pool," Jackson added. "It always has been for this board and it always will be. It's not about how many people will use it in two years ... it's about a sense of pride, a sense of community."
Jackson said they're making a lot of progress.
"We have overwhelming community support," he said. "After touring the structure, we know it's not as big an undertaking as was originally thought. The structure is in much better shape than had previously been reported. The park board had said it might cost $1.8 million (to fix); we're nowhere near that to restore the pool. All the indications are that it will not cost nearly so much."