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Future of Steubenville’s Jim Wood Park remains up for discussion

PARK DISCUSSION — Mike Bauman of Steubenville City Schools goes over some of the ideas they have for updating facilities at Jim Wood Park. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — City Manager Jim Mavromatis told school officials Wednesday selling Jim Wood Park “is not an option we’re looking at.”

Mavromatis, speaking at the meeting of the parks and recreation board, said the members of City Council he’s spoken with aren’t willing to part with Jim Wood, “one of our largest parks in the West End of town and (one that) services a lot of people.”

“We will look at the possible option of leasing, because clearly it’s going to add a great addition to that park,” he said. “But (a recommendation) will be made by the parks and recreation board with final say by the council.”

Steubenville City Schools has proposed extensive upgrades at Jim Wood, including making softball and baseball fields “state-of-the-art,” which would allow them to host tournaments. They also propose relocating the soccer fields to another part of the park and enhancing the walking track. The splash pad and walking trail will remain, though Superintendent Melinda Young said the gazebo and playground would be relocated to a location chosen in consultation with the city.

The school system would take on maintenance and upkeep.

“We felt there was no sense going forward unless we knew everything will fit for the school system and we’d be able to keep everything that’s out there (now) as well,” said Young, who described the proposal as a “win-win for everybody.”

Steubenville High School Principal Ted Gorman said their goal is “to make sure we do something positive for our community.”

“We want to provide a first-class facility for our community,” Gorman said. “We don’t want to take anything away — if a playground has to be relocated, we’re open to that. If we have to relocate (a field), we’re open to that. We don’t want to cut corners.”

School officials did say access to the tournament-quality Legion baseball and softball fields would have to be restricted, prompting board member Dave Albaugh to suggest that, “at that point it becomes Steubenville City Schools playing field.”

“If it’s going to be state-of-the-art, you can’t have people just walking in there, I agree with you on that,” board member Garfield Hayden said.

The school system will schedule town hall meetings to explain what they have in mind and answer questions.

Eventually, the park board will have to make a recommendation to council, which would have the final say. An agreement also would have to be negotiated.

“This is only our first step,” Young said. “There are a lot of things we need to look at, a lot of things we need to work out, but we didn’t want to do anything unless there was an interest.”

Mavromatis said having town meetings is crucial “so the public can be educated and see what a nice addition it will be to that part of town.”

But, during the public comment period, a Canterbury Boulevard resident who walks her dogs at the park said she “(doesn’t) think it’s the area to do it.”

“Just take it to (another) area and make it beautiful,” she said.

Mavromatis urged residents to keep an open mind and said it’s important to look at the big picture.

“Make no mistake, it’s going to be a lot of money, and that’s not money the city is going to have,” he said.

The board, meanwhile, voted to proceed with an engineering study for the bridge at Beatty Park.

The 134-year-old bridge, which provides access to the upper shelter at Beatty, has been closed since July, when workers discovered the sandstone underpinning it had weathered to the extent the span is no longer safe for vehicular traffic. The park board has held off on repairing the shelter roof, damaged in a March fire, until a decision is made about the bridge.

“There are (several) options, but we still need that study done,” said Lori Fetherolf, parks and recreation director. “We do have the funds for it. If we get the study done, it would make us shovel-ready if grant money becomes available.”

Fetherolf gave the board information she’d gathered on developing a dog park, saying it’s not simply a matter of fencing in a field. She said there needs to be, at minimum, an acre of land as well as fencing, separate areas for small and large dogs and access to a high-low water fountain — high for humans, low for dogs.

“I’m not opposed to a dog park,” Fetherolf said. “But if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

Fetherolf also told the board she hopes to be able to ask council at Tuesday’s meeting to sign off on development of a parks and recreation foundation, pointing out there’s a groundswell of public support for preserving the beauty and history of Beatty Park. Having a foundation will allow the park board to accept donations targeted for specific projects or parks.

“I think we’ve got to move on it,” she said. “People really are into Beatty Park right now, and I don’t want to pass up an opportunity.”

Fetherolf also told the board the cost to install floating docks at the marina could run to several hundred thousand dollars.

“There is some funding out there for docks right now, so were looking into it,” she said.

Fetherolf also said community meetings will be scheduled to gather input on a proposal from the nonprofit Urban Frontier organization to turn the North End park into a “miracle field” — an all-inclusive park for people of all ages and abilities.

Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn, who chairs council’s recreation committee, said they’re “working out an agreement” with the individuals who volunteered to oversee grass cutting at the Parkdale, Devonshire and Linda Way tot lots.

“Our goal will be (a two-year deal), then we could reassess where we are,” she said.

Hahn also ticked off a list of updates that need done at the three playgrounds.

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