The board that oversees Kanawha County’s parks has signed off on putting a $15.2 million multi-sports complex at Shawnee Park in Institute.
The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday voted in favor of the project at its regular meeting. The Kanawha County Commission is expected to take up the measure at its Tuesday meeting.
Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said the board voted for the measure because it wants to offer more for children in the county and to seize on an economic development opportunity.
Proponents of the sports complex have said it would host travel sports tournaments and that teams from the area also could use it.
“This field here at Schoenbaum [Soccer Stadium at Coonskin Park] stays packed all the time, the field at Trace Fork stays busy all the time,” Hutchinson said. “There’s Little League football teams that need places to play. The middle school teams need places to play.”
Hutchinson said the complex also could bring in about a $1 million economic impact for every two- or three-day travel tournament it hosts. The tournaments also would expose the area to people, which is important, he said.
“Everyone keeps talking about how we need to do something to drive tourism because coal’s gone — well, we’re trying,” Hutchinson said.
The lone no vote on the proposal came from board member Dave Pope. Pope, who serves on the West Virginia Golf Association executive committee and the parks board’s golf committee, said he supports having the complex, but couldn’t vote to do away with the golf course at Shawnee Park, which the proposal would require.
“I just can’t vote to tear up a golf course,” Pope said after the meeting. “This may be a great project. I knew it was going to pass, but I couldn’t vote for it.”
At a public hearing last month and an open house Tuesday, Shawnee golfers expressed their opposition to the project to the project for the same reason. The Shawnee course is relatively flat, which makes it easier for older golfers to play there, golfers have said.
The complex would include four collegiate-size turf baseball/softball fields, six collegiate-size turf soccer/lacrosse fields, several grass practice fields, a community building, playgrounds with shelters and parking lots. The complex would cost an estimated $15.2 million. Its operating and maintenance costs have yet to be determined.
While the proposal would take away a golf course, Parks commission president Allen Tackett said the board will ask the County Commission for money to put in new cart paths at Big Bend Golf Course in Tornado. The Big Bend course has a nice layout, Tackett said, it just needs some “TLC.”
Pope said he would be happy to see the improvements happen at Big Bend.
Institute resident Kathy Ferguson was one of three people who spoke out against the complex at the parks board meeting Wednesday. Among other things, she asked why the board didn’t put the proposal to a vote or consider putting in a state-of-the-art indoor basketball facility at the complex. She also raised concerns about potential chemicals at the field and about how the complex would affect traffic flow in the area.
“It’s not to say that it’s a cuckoo idea, but I just don’t think it’s been completely well thought out in terms of the logistics,” Ferguson said.
Dow Chemical announced Tuesday it would pay to test the groundwater under Shawnee Park for contamination. Last month, West Virginia State University, which sits near the park, sued Dow for allegedly contaminating the groundwater under its campus. The school does not use the groundwater for drinking, but the chemicals threaten campus development plans and harm the school’s reputation, the lawsuit alleges.
County Commission President Kent Carper said Tuesday he had been pressing Dow to fund the tests but that he did not yet know exactly what sort of sampling is planned. He also did not commit to cleaning up the potential chemicals until he sees the sampling results and hears from a consultant.
In other business:
n The parks commission voted to support the town of East Bank in installing a handicapped-accessible fishing pier at Pioneer Park.
n The commission also approved a request from the city of South Charleston to use a stage owned by the parks commission for an event.
n It denied a request by a Huntington promoter to use the same stage at an event in Madison. Hutchinson said the parks commission’s policy is to allow the stage to be used only inside the county.