Many children and parents in the city of Wheeling were pleasantly surprised during their first trip to their neighborhood playground this spring because several of the facilities were refurbished with brand new equipment this past winter.
Playgrounds in Elm Grove, South Wheeling, Mozart, North and South Wheeling, Wheeling Heights and on Wheeling Island were transformed, and several more new facilities are on their way in Warwood, Woodsdale, Greggsville, Fulton, North Park, and in the Overbrook area of Elm Grove.
“Playgrounds have changed over the years, and it was the liability that led to the changes we see across the country,” reported Jesse Mestrovic, the city’s director of parks and strategic planning. “People do not want to place their children in danger of injury, so if a city wants playgrounds to be used, they have to make sure they are safe so that lawsuits are not filed. Included in those changes is the fact that we can no longer have grass under swings anymore. We have to have a protective surface for the children now.
“The mulch in the playgrounds now is not like the mulch that a lot of people place in their landscaping,” he continued. “The difference involves the way it is shaved and the type of wood that is used for the playground mulch.”
Community Development Block Grant funds from the federal government were utilized on Wheeling Island, South Wheeling, Wheeling Heights and North Wheeling, and general fund monies were used for the upgrades in Elm Grove, Mozart and Warwood. The old equipment has been removed at Garden Park, and the new playground is on site and awaiting construction. Mestrovic also is working with the administration of Warwood School to refurbish the basketball court at the Warwood playground.
“No one likes it when their neighborhood playground is removed, but once the new parks have opened, the residents have been very happy with the new equipment,” he continued. “But safety is paramount, and when the old equipment has been removed, we have attempted to communicate to the residents that a new one was on its way.
“Everything I have heard has been positive,” Mestrovic said. “I have heard some concerns about some of the work, but those concerns are being addressed. That’s what this process has been all about.”
South Wheeling, North Wheeling
The equipment at the city’s playground on 26th Street was old, tired and broken, and when it was removed, the residents reacted. Today, those same people are pleased, according to Mestrovic, with the completed improvements.
“The playground at 26th Street was moved a little so it could be paired with the tennis court that is there, and it also moved the children away from a very busy roadway,” Mestrovic said. “It’s a brand new playground that is geared for children between the ages of 5-12 years old just as most of the new ones are. What we found in our research is that children between the ages of 2-5 years old end up playing on the playgrounds that are for the 5- to 12-year-olds anyway.
“The Wilson Playground in North Wheeling still features the basketball court, and we added outdoor fitness equipment there,” he explained. “On the top level there’s a new play station and swings, and that playground also features a mural that was done by local artist Amanda Carney. She’s a resident of North Wheeling, and she’s very passionate about her neighborhood, so it was a great partnership.”
The Jensen’s Playground and ballfield both fell into disrepair, so Mestrovic, who broke an arm falling from “Monkey Bars” as a child, decided a total transformation was needed at the south end facility. The same can be said for the facility in Wheeling Heights.
“We made the decision to put the new playground next to the ballfield because we believed it would be more comfortable for parents to have their children playing closer to them while they watched a ball game,” he explained. “The old playground is still there, but the plan is to remove the equipment soon and transform that area into a new basketball court with lights. That’s the goal.
“The new Grandview Playground also features the newest public pool in the city, and our staff painted the pool house last year to make it a more attractive atmosphere for everyone who visits the facility,” Mestrovic said. “The old playground that was there was on top of asphalt, and that’s not something that is acceptable today because of safety concerns. There was a time when all of Wheeling’s playgrounds were on asphalt.”
Residents near Bridge Park, the city’s newest playground located beyond the ballfield’s rightfield fence, are pleased with the addition of equipment for younger children.
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A disc golf course was constructed at the Wheeling Island Marina for $10,000, and it has proved popular since its completion last fall. The recent flooding did litter the course with debris and damaged one of the course’s buckets.
“The disc golf course will be cleaned up and repaired once there are maintenance workers available to perform that work,” Mestrovic explained. “Right now, those folks are very busy with the potholes in the city because it’s finally warmed up. They have been working on that for a couple of weeks now.
“We do have a limited staff that can only do as much work as they can, and that is why the partnerships with local companies like Orrick, Williams Lea and even the Elks Lodge is something we enjoy because those efforts allow for a lot more to get accomplished,” he continued. “We welcome those opportunities as often as we can.”
Elm Grove, Mozart
The Patterson area along Sycamore Avenue features three ballfields, Big Wheeling Creek and, now, new playground equipment for younger children, and the Mozart community now enjoys similar playground amenities.
“We replaced all of the equipment at the Patterson Playground, and that equipment is geared toward children that are 2-5 years old because there’s a lot of fields in the area for the older kids,” Mestrovic said. “There’s also the tennis courts, the pickleball courts and Big Wheeling Creek in that area, so the old kids definitely can find things to do.
“The Mozart community also has a brand new playground for the children and parents there, and the view there of the city is a really beautiful view,” he said. “There is a taller structure at that facility so the children can take advantage of that vantage point.”
The Garden Park Playground looks odd right now after city employees stripped the facility of all its old equipment, but the new attractions are on site and ready to be built.
“We’re working with the folks from Warwood School because those children use that playground every day,” Mestrovic said. “They have swings at the school, but the kids want to do more than just swing, so we formed a partnership to gain their opinions and to raise funds for the basketball court there.
“The new Garden Park Playground will cost about $100,000 because of the size of the facility and the new equipment that will be installed in the near future,” he continued. “New swings, outdoor fitness equipment and some other items will be at the same location.”
Edgington Lane School once stood on the land where the community’s playground is located now, and it’s been 40 years since the facility has been significantly upgraded. A transformation, Mestrovic confirmed, will take place, but not until next year.
“Edgington Lane is likely one of the most used playgrounds we have in the city of Wheeling, so I plan to have it refurbished next year,” he reported. “We develop the list of projects based on the equipment in place and the use of the facility, and Garden Park is used by the students of Warwood School every day the weather cooperates.
“I have also worked with the folks at Woodsdale Elementary, and when that is completed, it’s going to be great for the children in that neighborhood,” he said. “When we do refurbish Edgington Lane, the work will be based on how it is used now, and I run past it every day and see the kids playing basketball and tennis.”
The same is true for the Pleasanton Playground near Wheeling Jesuit University, but that is because the footbridge needs to be demolished before a new span can be constructed at the same location.
“The city had to close that bridge because of safety, but I am hopeful we will hear good news about that in the near future,” Mestrovic said. “I know a lot of people used that bridge, and that it’s very important to the residents of the area and to the administration of the university.
“The will be even more good news for the residents of the city because I am now working on a plan for my new budget which I will receive on July 1,” he added. “Not only will benches be added for the parents at all of the new playgrounds, but we’re also looking at how we can use the outdoors for recreation in all corners of Wheeling.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)
• Steve Novotney has been a professional journalist for 23 years, working for weekly and daily newspapers, the official publication of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and talk radio stations in Pittsburgh and Wheeling. He took his journalism to the Ohio Valley airwaves in 2004, and he is a premier interviewer and feature writer. Steve has been married to his wife, Michelle, for more than 20 years, and they have two children, Michael and Amanda.