WEIRTON — The Weirton Board of Parks & Recreation met Thursday via teleconference and emerged with a decision to open the playground, tennis courts and basketball courts at Starvaggi Memorial Park and Marland Heights Park to the general public, effective Saturday, May 23.
The decision was the result of extensive discussion by the Park Board and consultation with city officials, all of whom remain committed to guarding the health and safety of the public, as well as city of Weirton and Park Board employees, while continuing to seek ways to provide quality recreation opportunities to the community.
“All the decisions we’ve made during this time have been made with public safety foremost in our minds,” Park Board Chairman Edwin J. Bowman said. “Concerns for the safety of our citizens has been, and will continue to be, the most important factor in our decision making process.”
The opening of the playground and courts at Starvaggi Park will be in compliance with the mitigation guidelines set forth by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, which means users will have to maintain social distance and keep gatherings under 25 people, using personal protection equipment when necessary.
Park Board Executive Director Coty Shingle said Park Board staff will be monitoring activities at all Park Board facilities to ensure that policies are being followed.
“There will be signs posted with the mitigation guidelines listed and users will be expected to adhere to the guidelines,” Shingle said. “We want to provide quality recreation opportunities to our residents and the most important element of a quality experience is safety.”
Park Board officials noted that users who fail to follow posted guidelines may be asked to leave the facility.
Although the playgrounds and courts at Starvaggi Park will be open, the Park Board determined that the swimming pool and shelters at Starvaggi Park will remain closed.
“At this time, the Park Board has decided to keep those facilities closed,” Bowman said. “Again, it’s for the same reason. It’s all about public safety.
“We’ll continue to review the status of the swimming pool and shelters, as well as take into consideration the governor’s mandates and what other communities around the valley are doing with similar facilities.”
In accordance with Gov. Justice’s guidelines, the shelters at Marland Heights Park will also remain closed.
“The governor’s guidelines for resumption of outdoor activities continue to limit gatherings to 25 people or less,” Shingle said. “Shelters are rented for events that are always over that number, so there’s no conceivable way for them to happen.”
The governor’s guidelines have also set June 8 as a tentative resumption date for youth team athletic activities. Edwin J. Bowman Field will remain closed until at least that point, pending a Park Board decision to resume baseball activities at the ballpark.
The Park Board also set plans in motion to re-open the Weirton Millsop Community Center (WMCC) at the appropriate time, which the board believes is in the near future.
The implementation of WMCC’s re-opening procedure will require notice to the public so mitigation guidelines and policies can be publicized in advance of the re-opening date.
“We need to give people at least a week’s notice to prepare for the re-opening of the center,” Shingle said. “That’s notice for patrons and staff at the center, many of which are part-time employees who are still currently laid off.
“I know our patrons are excited about getting back into the center and resuming their regular workouts, so we’re working as quickly as possible, but with public safety remaining the most important factor. We’ll be working with city administrators to determine a re-opening date that everyone is comfortable with.”
Shingle said the public will get at least a week’s notice that re-opening WMCC is imminent.
Despite the fact that the Park Board is an autonomous board within the city of Weirton’s government structure, the board has continued to work closely with city administrators as it navigates the uncertain landscape of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Although we are an autonomous board, I feel very strongly that it is in the best interest of the community for us to coordinate every action we take and decision we make with the city manager, mayor and city council,” Bowman said. “We all have to work together to do what’s best for the community.”