WEIRTON - The city's park board has granted historic Margaret Manson Weir pool a reprieve, agreeing to give a community group time to obtain grant money to research the feasibility of preserving its unique architecture and return it to operating condition.
At Wednesday's meeting, the board agreed to table demolition of the aged structure indefinitely and authorized preparation of a memorandum of understanding spelling out its willingness to lease the property in its entirety to the Marland Heights Community Association.
"We need to show that the park board is willing to work with us so we can do a feasibility study," MHCA spokeswoman Kathrine Kolanko said. "We need to get all the engineers, the electricians and everybody together, see what we'd be working with in terms of dollars and cents."
Kolanko said they need the memorandum of understanding "because no one is going to give us money if we don't have" the park board's cooperation and involvement. It must be in place by Oct. 31 for them to qualify for a grant through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History that would pay for the study which, when done, will help them understand "how feasible it is to actually renovate the pool to get it up and operational."
The delay represents a dramatic change of course for the board, which in July voted to proceed with demolition of the unusual structure after consultants told them building an all-new recreational facility would be more cost-effective than rehabbing the existing building: the report pegged the cost of renovating and reusing the existing building at anywhere from $800,000 to $1.75 million, while the cost of tearing the old pool down and building a new facility would be roughly $325,000.
On Wednesday, however, the board was unanimous in its decision to allow MHCA time to research its options.
"I'm very pleased with the course that's been set for Marland Heights Park," board member Ed Bowman said. "But having said that, as a park board member my position has not changed with respect to the park board operating the pool. I'm really encouraged. I wish them the best of luck, I hope it works out for them; if it doesn't, then we'll go back and pursue a motion for the demolition of Marland Heights pool."
Bowman described the relationship of the board with the MHCA as "a partnership," adding that, if they can reach a lease agreement, "the board will turn over the grounds and the pool itself, they'll lease it for a period of time still to be determined."
He also said MHCA has asked that the board maintain liability insurance for the property, though he said that must be researched before a decision is made.
Kolanko, meanwhile, said they're already planning activities to draw community residents to the park and help raise money for the renovations, beginning with an Oktoberfest celebration set from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 27.
"We're hoping for a large turnout," Kolanko said. "We'll have crafters, food vendors, a horse for rides, goats that kids can pet, pumpkin painting and hay rides."
Weather permitting, she said there also will be a butterfly demonstration.
"We're very excited about it," Kolanko said, adding the group also is planning an oldies dance. "We have a lot of other ideas, too, about how we can draw people into the pool and expand the park."
"It's a real grassroots effort," she added. "People are interested not just for the historic preservation of a beautiful site, but also because it's an opportunity to provide a retreat for the community."
Plans also are in the works to return a concrete fountain to the park property, its original home.