The Kanawha County Commission will host a second public hearing next week about a proposed multi-sport complex at Shawnee Park in Institute.
Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango said the complex would cost about $15.2 million to build, according to an estimate from engineering firm ZMM, which is doing a feasibility study about the proposal.
“The Open House will feature the layout of the sports fields, and staff will be present to answer questions from the public concerning the use, cost, construction, operation and upkeep of the sports facility,” a notice from the commission states. “This is an exciting opportunity for the community to see what this complex will be like and how it will serve the youth of the area. These fields will give our youth more opportunities to develop their athletic prowess and improve childhood physical fitness as well.”
The hearing is slated for 5 to 7 p.m. May 16 at the Walker Convocation Center at West Virginia State University.
The complex would include four collegiate-sized turf baseball/softball fields, six collegiate turf soccer/lacrosse fields, several grass practice fields, a community building, new playgrounds with shelters and parking lots.
Salango has said the cost of the complex would be paid for with bonds and fundraising efforts.
Salango, a proponent of the complex, has said the complex would be an economic driver for the area, and would host tournaments for travel sports teams from bigger cities like Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio, Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky and Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex wouldn’t be for only soccer; it could host lacrosse, football, baseball and softball tournaments as well, he said.
At a public hearing last month, Salango referenced a 2012 study of a soccer tournament and a lacrosse tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, a town of approximately 15,000 people. The study, commissioned by the city’s chamber of commerce and a soccer club from the area, among other things found that the two tournaments brought in a combined 15,900 people to the area and contributed $3.4 million in direct spending in the region. The tournaments also inspired “large numbers” of people to return to the area for subsequent trips and vacations, the study says.
The sports complex proposal, which would eliminate the Shawnee Park golf course, has drawn ire from longtime golfers at the park. Senior citizens from the area like to golf at Shawnee because the course is flat, opponents have said. Mike Moyers, who said he has golfed at Shawnee for at least 25 years, said he and others don’t want to take anything away from children, but they also don’t think the county should take away something that is popular with local people to allow those from out of state to use it. Moyers suggested that perhaps the county could build a smaller version of the complex and keep part of the golf course for golfers.
Salango said the commission could vote on the proposal at its next meeting May 23, provided the commission has an estimate for the cost of operating the complex.
“We are also going to do some ground testing for chemicals before we start construction to make sure it’s safe,” Salango wrote in an email to the Gazette-Mail. “So, any vote on May 23 will be contingent on financing and the results of the testing.”
Late last month, West Virginia State University, which sits adjacent to Shawnee Park, announced it is suing Dow Chemical and previous owners of the Institute chemical plant, alleging the plant contaminated the campus’s groundwater.
The school said the contamination poses no health risks — the campus does not use groundwater for its drinking water. It says the pollution threatens campus development plans and harms State’s local and national reputation.
Commission President Kent Carper told the Gazette-Mail that Shawnee Park had not been tested for 1,4-dioxane, 1,1-dichloroethane and chloroform, which WVSU officials say were found at “elevated levels” in the groundwater 15 to 50 feet beneath the campus.
Carper said Wednesday officials are reviewing documents related to testing that was done at W.Va. State. He said he will ask Dow Chemical to pay to test for chemicals, including in the groundwater under the park.
“I don’t think this is a huge cost and I would hope that Dow would pay for it,” Carper said. “I don’t think the taxpayers should pay for it, but one way or another it should be done out of an abundance of caution.”
Carper said core sampling tests and others are a routine part of construction projects the county has been involved with. He does not expect the potential groundwater contamination to be a hindrance to the proposed complex. The county will also check for percolating springs and for utility lines at the park, Carper said.
“Not to do so would be a failure to do due diligence,” Carper said.
Carper said if there is groundwater contamination, he does not plan to close the park. He noted that the state Department of Environmental Protection has reviewed a study of the alleged contamination and concluded there is a not a threat to human health.